The Game Changers is a weekly series looking at the most important results of each week. Each section will look at one team and how its win, loss, or draw impacts the season.
It’s officially been four weeks since the NWSL season kicked off. This week was low scoring, with just two goals scored across four games. The Utah Royals now sit at the top of the NWSL table, with nine points across three games. Meanwhile, the Orlando Pride earned another loss this week as they struggle at the bottom of the table with just one point. This is the first week without the U.S national team players, but there weren’t too many surprise results. Here are the score lines from this weekend:
Utah Royals vs. Chicago Red Stars (1-0)
Washington Spirit vs. Seattle Reign (0-0)
North Carolina Courage vs. Sky Blue (0-0)
Houston Dash vs. Orlando Pride (1-0)
Utah Royals undefeated in their first three games
The Utah Royals are off to a hot start, and this weekend, they proved they could succeed without Christen Press, Becky Sauerbrunn, or Kelley O’Hara. The Royals hosted their second home match of the season on Friday night against the Chicago Red Stars. The Red Stars were coming off a hot streak of their own, with seven goals in two games and a dominant win over the Seattle Reign in Week Three. They lost Alyssa Naeher, Morgan Brian, and Tierna Davidson to U.S. national team call-ups. The game was tight, with the 84th minute winner being scored by Amy Rodriguez.
The Utah Royals will lose more internationals in the coming weeks. While not all the names are cemented, the possible absences include Diana Matheson, Desiree Scott, Katie Bowen, Vero Boquete, and Rachel Corsie. Four of those players started for the Royals on Friday night, and it’s not clear how deep their team is. I would never underestimate a Laura Harvey side, but their team will be one of many that will be rocked by the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Good thing they’re racking up points early on.
Sky Blue plays scoreless draw against North Carolina
At the beginning of the season, it looked like Sky Blue was going to be more of the same. They dropped points to Washington in their first match and Houston in their home opener, losing both matches with zero goals scored. Their third match was against the Portland Thorns, and most people thought they would be destroyed. Instead, Carli Lloyd scored two goals in the first 25 minutes and Sky Blue finished the game with a 2-2 draw.
North Carolina is without many U.S. national team members, including Sam Mewis, Abby Dalhkemper, Crystal Dunn, and Jessica McDonald. Sky Blue lost just one player– Carli Lloyd. The game was not even. North Carolina had 28 shots to Sky Blue’s seven. They had fifteen corners to Sky Blue’s five, and they dominated possession at 58%. But this draw still feels important for Sky Blue. They were supposed to be slaughtered in these last two games. Instead, they managed to get two points against two of the best teams in the league. And while it is too early to be worried over the NWSL Standings, Sky Blue sits one point above the Orlando Pride. They’re still looking for their first win, which took them the entire season in 2018. But things feel slightly more hopeful in New Jersey, especially as teams prepare to lose their internationals.
Orlando Drops More Points at Home
Things are starting to look dire for the Orlando Pride. They have played five games so far this season, yet they sit at the bottom of the table with only one point. They have allowed nine goals in those five games, while scoring just one. They’re without Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, and Ali Krieger, and they will likely lose players like Shelina Zadorsky, Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, Marta, and Camila in the coming weeks. It’s hard to see how things can get better for them, but it’s also hard to see how they can get much worse.
Houston didn’t dominate Orlando, but the match certainly wasn’t even either. Houston had 18 shots to Orlando’s nine, and nine shots on goal while Orlando had none. Haley Kopmeyer stepped with eight saves, while Jane Campbell didn’t have to make any. The lone goal from Kealia Ohai was a beauty, but Orlando’s inability to generate any energy really cemented their problems. If you’re an Orlando fan, it’s probably time to panic.