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.
Week Three in the NWSL saw the strongest teams begin to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. The North Carolina Courage earned another dominating win, and the Utah Royals earned another 1-0 victory to give them two wins in their first two matches. Meanwhile, Sky Blue came to life against Portland and Orlando suffered their third loss in four matches. Here is a full breakdown of the scores:
Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals (0-1)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Reign FC (3-0)
Sky Blue FC vs. Portland Thorns (2-2)
Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage (1-4)
Chicago Red Stars dominate Reign FC
The Chicago Red Stars started the year with draws against the top-two teams from last season. They accomplished things few teams could last year: they scored four goals against the Portland Thorns and earned a point on the road in Cary, North Carolina. While these were good games for the Red Stars, it wasn’t clear if they could turn these games into long-term success.
Week Three might be too early to decide who is and is not a playoff contender. But this three goal victory against last year’s No. 3 team lifted the Chicago Red Stars into the top tier of the NWSL. Their attack benefited from poor defense by the Reign, but even so, they have scored eight goals in their first three matches. It’s not clear how much the World Cup will impact their squad, but they seem poised to take less of a hit than other top teams.
With this win, the Chicago Red Stars have grabbed our attention. We’ll see if they can keep themselves in that top tier.
Sky Blue Draws Against Portland
Sky Blue had two losses in their first two games and failed to score a goal in either match. Many people went into Sunday’s game assuming they would get blown out by the Portland Thorns, who were averaging three goals a game. Instead, Carli Lloyd opened up scoring in the sixth minute. Sky Blue had their first goal of the season and an early lead over the Portland Thorns.
In the end, Lloyd found the back of the net one more time before Emily Sonnett and Tobin Heath scored within two minutes of each other. Even though Sky Blue only managed a draw in this match, getting their first points of the season against one of the strongest teams in the league is meaningful to this Sky Blue side. We’ve been searching for signs of life in 2019 after Sky Blue had a disastrous 2018. While they’re still waiting for their first win, this game showed that Sky Blue can compete. And the gap between them and other clubs will get even tighter as other teams lose massive chunks of their roster to the World Cup.
Houston takes a tough loss to North Carolina
Houston was– and still is– a big question mark for the 2019 season. It felt like a good step forward when they didn’t lose to Reign FC, even though they gave up a late PK. They scored a late winner against Sky Blue, despite not having their best game. But their less-than-stellar performances caught up with them against North Carolina, who made them pay for their mistakes with four goals against them.
Houston is teetering between a playoff team and a middle-of-the-pack team. There is no shame in losing to North Carolina, but Houston was completely dominated for most of the second half. With a new head coach, they’re likely still finding their footing. This match has the opportunity to be a wake-up call for Houston, but it may also be a sign that they’re still short of that top-level.