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.
It was a busy week of NWSL action, with two games on Wednesday night followed by four more over the weekend. The Washington Spirit played their first match of the season at Audi Field in front of over 19,000 fans, and sent their supporters home with a victory over the visiting Orlando Pride. The Chicago Red Stars lost back-to-back matches, but still managed to stay in the top four, thanks in part to a 1-0 loss for Reign FC in their weekend match against the North Carolina Courage. And the Portland Thorns continued their domination with a 3-0 victory on Sunday, although they still have to keep an eye on the Courage, who have two extra games left to play. Here is a full breakdown of the results from Week 19.
Washington Spirit vs. Utah Royals (0-0)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Orlando Pride (1-2)
North Carolina Courage vs. Reign FC (1-0)
Washington Spirit vs. Orlando Pride (2-1)
Houston Dash vs. Sky Blue (1-2)
Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars (3-0)
A late goal from Lynn Williams lifts North Carolina into the No. 2 spot.
The North Carolina Courage climbed into the No. 2 spot in the NWSL Standings after a late goal from Lynn Williams gave them a 1-0 victory over Reign FC. North Carolina dominated the match against the Reign; they had 26 shots compared to 9 from the Reign, Stephanie Labbé had to make one save compared to six from Reign FC goalkeeper Casey Murphy, and the Courage won the possession battle. But in typical North Carolina fashion, the Courage struggled to find the finish. In the 82nd minute, Jess McDonald passed the ball to Crystal Dunn, who sent a cross into the box. Williams was able to get her foot on it and sent it past Murphy for the lone goal of the night, lifting the Courage to victory.
The Courage now sit in the No. 2 spot in the NWSL Standings, two points ahead of the No. 3 Chicago Red Stars. While there is a five-point gap between them and the No. 1 Portland Thorns, the Courage also have more games left to play. The Courage have played just 17 matches this season, compared to 18 for Orlando, Houston, Washington, Reign FC, and Utah, and 19 for Sky Blue, Chicago, and Portland. The extra matches give them some room to catch up. So, watch out for the Courage: they still might be coming for that NWSL Shield once again.
The Washington Spirit impress in front of massive home crowd.
The Washington Spirit hosted their first match of the 2019 season at Audi Field on Saturday night. With over 19,000 fans in attendance, the Spirit earned a 2-1 victory over the visiting Orlando Pride. Crystal Thomas scored the first goal for Washington just nine minutes into the game, capitalizing on a mistake from Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Marta equalized for the Pride in the 31st minute, finishing off a cross from Rachel Hill and sending the ball past former Orlando Pride goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Ultimately, a 59th minute goal from Ashley Hatch was the game-winning goal. The Spirit sent a long ball into the box and Hatch got her head on the end of it, sending it past Harris for the Spirit’s second goal of the night.
The Spirit are not completely out of the playoff picture, though they are still three points off the No. 4 Utah Royals. But this match is significant for reasons beyond the NWSL table. The Spirit showed this week not only that they could get a massive crowd at Audi Field, but that they could give those fans an entertaining night and ultimately a win. This could be massive for the Spirit going forward, especially if they are as successful in their second match at Audi Field on September 14th, when they host Reign FC.
The Chicago Red Stars struggle again.
The Chicago Red Stars loss to the Portland Thorns on Sunday marked their third loss in a row. The Thorns opened up scoring early with a 12th minute goal from Christine Sinclair, and they didn’t stop. While Chicago generated some offensive chances– they had 17 shots compared to 12 from the Portland Thorns– they weren’t able to finish anything. They walked away from Providence Park likely hoping to forget the entire ordeal.
The Chicago Red Stars went from winning five games in a row to losing three games in a row. A few weeks ago, they were the hottest team in the NWSL. But now, with the playoff race so tight, the Red Stars might not even make the playoffs if they don’t find a way to win. The good news is that the Red Stars only have to face one opponent from the top four in their remaining matches. But as we learned over the last couple of weeks, teams at the bottom of the table can still be spoilers in a playoff race. If the Chicago Red Stars are serious about seeing the postseason and making a run at a championship, they’ll need to shake off this losing streak and get back to their winning ways.