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 is the kickoff week for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, but back in the United States, there is still plenty of NWSL action. On Saturday, the Washington Spirit earned a 2-0 victory over the Utah Royals, solidifying them in the No. 1 spot with 16 points in seven games. The North Carolina Courage went back to their winning ways in Orlando, and the Portland Thorns played at the newly refurbished Providence Park for the first time in 2019. Here is a full breakdown of this week’s results:
Washington Spirit vs. Utah Royals (2-0)
Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage (0-3)
Reign FC vs. Houston Dash (1-1)
Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars (3-0)
The Washington Spirit earn another win.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised at this point, since it seems to happen every week. But on Saturday, the Washington Spirit earned their fourth win in a row. Ashley Hatch scored the first goal, decimating the Utah Royals defense as she spun around them and placed her shot in the far corner. Hatch set up the second goal as well, when her shot bounced off the post and landed at the feet of Dorian Bailey. Hatch now leads the team with three goals on the year.
The Spirit have already earned more points this season than they did in all of 2018. Richie Burke seems to be working out as their head coach, although as RJ Allen pointed out in her article “We Need To Talk About Richie Burke,” that’s a complicated situation. They are playing teams who have lost many international players to the World Cup, but the Spirit have lost their fair share as well, including Mallory Pugh, Rose Lavelle, Chloe Lagarzo, and Chenya Matthews. It’s time to admit that the Spirit look legit.
The Portland Thorns reopen Providence Park in style.
After two months worth of road games, the Portland Thorns finally returned to Providence Park on Sunday following the stadium’s expansion. They started the scoring in the first half, with a 27th minute goal from Margaret Purce. Simone Charley sent her pass through the defenders and to the feet of Purce, who beat the goalkeeper and tapped the ball into the net. That same combo scored again a few minutes later, when Charley sent a cross to Purce, who redirected the ball into the net. They went into halftime with a 2-0, and in the second half, Thorns added to their tally with a late goal from Marissa Everett.
The Thorns have been pretty consistent during this time on the road, but they haven’t wowed us. This weekend, the Thorns impressed in Portland. They are looking like a team to watch, even without Christine Sinclair or Tobin Heath.
Chicago Red Stars drop points on the road.
The Chicago Red Stars lost their second game in a row this weekend. They’re still 3-3-2, and the Portland Thorns are not easy opponents, so I’m not saying it’s time to panic for the Red Stars. They accumulated 28 shots against the Thorns, but weren’t able to find the back of the net. While the goals from the Thorns showed a good bit of skill, sometimes Chicago defense clearly just wasn’t sharp enough. It’s true that they are missing many important players, but they will have to collect points during this period if they expect to be in the playoff picture at the end of the year.
The Red Stars have conceded the same amount of goals that they have scored in 2019. They also only have one clean sheet. But their only losses have come from the top three teams in the league– Washington, Portland, and Utah. I think the Chicago Red Stars are good enough to make the playoffs, but they need to make sure they don’t drop points while they’re missing their World Cup stars.