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 Two of the NWSL season has come and gone. The Utah Royals played their first match of 2019 in front of a crowd of 18,000 at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday night. The North Carolina Courage reminded everyone why they are the best in the league on Wednesday with a 5-0 win over the Orlando Pride. And the wildest match of the season so far unfolded in Chicago on Saturday, with a combined total of eight goals scored in 90 minutes. Here’s a breakdown of the week’s results:
North Carolina Courage vs. Orlando Pride (5-0)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Portland Thorns (4-4)
Sky Blue vs. Houston Dash (0-1)
Utah Royals vs. Washington Spirit (1-0)
Reign FC vs. Orlando Pride (1-1)
The Chicago Red Stars Raise the Bar In 4-4 Draw
It may have been fair to assume the match between the Portland Thorns and the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday afternoon would be fun. But no one could have predicted the madness that ensued at Chicago’s home opener. The game had everything except defense: a hat trick by Christine Sinclair, two penalty kicks, and Sam Kerr scoring on a crazy play.
This match feels significant for the Chicago Red Stars. The club seemed to be hovering around the No. 4 or No. 5 spot in everyone’s predictions, as though they will either just make the playoffs or just miss them. With this draw, Chicago showed that they can keep up with the top-level teams. They showed a new determination that might not have been there at this time last season. Chicago worked hard for that draw, and they earned it, courtesy of a 90th minute goal from Yuki Nagasato.
Chicago may only have two points right now, but they have a lot to be happy about. They faced the top two teams from last year in their first two games and managed to walk away with a solid result. With this draw, the Chicago Red Stars announced that they’re here to play: and they can hang with the best of them.
Sky Blue looks bad in 0-1 loss to Houston
Sky Blue had a chance to ease into the season, but already, things aren’t looking good. They lost their season opener 2-0 to the Washington Spirit and this week, dropped their home opener to the Houston Dash. Everything in this match seemed to go wrong for Sky Blue, including a missed penalty kick from Carli Lloyd and a last-minute goal from Sofia Huerta that ultimately lost them the match.
While Sky Blue created chances, they were few and far between. They’re still looking for their first goal of the season. Houston had the advantage in almost every stats category except for saves and clearances. The only real positive of the night was goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who kept the loss a modest 1-0 when the Dash could have easily scored three or four goals.
Sky Blue started the season off against two teams that were in the bottom half of the table last season. Next week, they’ll host the Portland Thorns, who scored four goals against Alyssa Naeher on Saturday and two more against Ashlyn Harris the week before. After that, they’ll travel to North Carolina to take on the Courage, who also have six goals in their first two games. What Sky Blue’s loss to Houston confirmed was that despite their offseason efforts, they’re still as bad as they were last year. It’s gonna be another long season in New Jersey.
Orlando Pride show signs of life in 1-1 draw against Reign FC
It wasn’t an easy start to the season for the Orlando Pride, and it wasn’t a good one either. After opening their season against the Portland Thorns last Sunday, they traveled to Cary, North Carolina for a midweek match against the Courage before continuing on to Tacoma for a weekend match. After the match against the Courage, things were starting to look bad. The Pride had conceded seven goals in their first two matches and scored none. There were excuses: the Pride were missing some of their starters against Portland, they were playing the top two teams in the league by 2018’s standards, etc. But the Pride looked lifeless in their first two match. It felt like they were standing on the edge of the cliff, looking down at the long season ahead of them.
But on Sunday, the Pride revived. They still didn’t look fantastic against Reign FC, but they looked better and managed to get their first points of the season out of that match. They took an early lead thanks to a bicycle kick from Alanna Kennedy, giving the Pride their first goal of the season in the 6th minute. It took Reign FC about 15 minutes to equalize, and from that point on, both teams searched for the game-winning goal with no success.
The Pride have a lot of problems on the pitch. They aren’t aggressive enough in the final third, their defense has been non-existent, and their midfield is all over the place. But on Sunday, they showed that they can get a result against a quality side. They might be long shots for the playoffs, but they haven’t quite jumped off the cliff yet.