The Game Changers is a weekly series looking at the three most important results of each week. Each section will look at one team and how its win, loss, or draw impacts the season.
As the NWSL season begins, some teams are looking to reassert their dominance, while others are hoping to start a new chapter in their club’s history. Some succeeded in their quests, while others will be turning back to the drawing board. Here are the Week One results:
Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue (2-0)
North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars (1-1)
Orlando Pride vs. Portland Thorns (0-2)
Reign FC vs. Houston Dash (1-1)
The North Carolina Courage Start 2019 With A Draw
The North Carolina Courage had a historic 2018 season. They won the Supporters’ Shield with 15 points more than No. 2 Portland Thorns, and broke the “Shield curse” by winning the NWSL Championship. The Courage are considered one of the best teams in the world, and they were hoping to start once again with three points.
But the Courage were unable to get the win in their season opener. Despite having many good chances in the first half, it was Chicago who got on the scoreboard first at the feet of, of course, Sam Kerr. Dunn curled the ball into the back of the net in the 66th minute to equalize, and both teams had decent chances after that to find a winner. But neither team could score, and the match ended in a draw.
The Courage are far from panicking. The Chicago Red Stars are a good team, and perhaps looked better than anticipated on Saturday. But for a team that only had one loss and two draws last season, the Courage will not be satisfied with that result. Maybe they will be less superhuman in 2019– or maybe the opener was just a small bump in the road.
Houston Dash Draw Against The Reign
Houston was a decent team last year, and so it might not seem like a major accomplishment that in their first match against Reign FC, they earned a draw. But watching the final moments of this game, it felt like one that a Dash team of the past would have lost at the last second.
Reign FC suffered two bad injuries in the first half– to Jasmyne Spencer and Megan Oyster– that threw off the whole rhythm of their game. But Houston looked good. They scored their first goal within ten minutes, off the foot of Nichelle Prince. Daly had another chance just a few minutes later. Multiple good saves by Michelle Betos kept the game at 1-0 until Darian Jenkins took a shot that deflected off the foot of a Houston defender and into the goal. With the game at 1-1, Houston was looking for more. But in stoppage time, Jane Campbell fouled Jodie Taylor inside the box and gave Reign FC a PK.
It seemed like Houston was about to lose. But Taylor didn’t take the best PK, Campbell got the save, and the game ended in a draw.
I’m not saying the Dash have solved all the problems that would have caused them to lose a game like that in years past. But the fact that they didn’t lose is significant. If they can get points out of close matches, they have a chance to fight for a playoff spot. This is a good starting point for them.
Orlando Struggles in 0-2 loss to Portland
It is not surprising that Orlando lost their season opener to Portland. This happens almost every year. What is surprising is just how much Orlando struggled on the pitch, particularly in the first half. Orlando has two of the greatest strikers in the world– Marta and Alex Morgan– up top, but they couldn’t get out of their own half. The defense didn’t seem to know what was going on, and the midfield was non-existent. The only thing standing between Orlando and the abyss was some fantastic goalkeeping skills from Ashlyn Harris.
Orlando is in their first season with a new head coach. Some growing pains are to be expected. But Orlando didn’t really solve their roster problems in the offseason, and it showed on Sunday. The team got better in the second half, particularly when Camila came on for Chioma Ubogagu. And Orlando fans will note that Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond were both out at the last minute with illness. But that alone does not explain just how bad Orlando looked.
I don’t think Harris was hoping to start her season facing 22 shots and being forced to make six saves. If Orlando wants to competitive in this league, they’ll have to step up their game.