The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series that looks at the best attacking, defensive, and goalkeeping performances each week.
The North Carolina Courage reaffirmed their dominance in this league with a 4-1 victory over No. 3 ranked Seattle. The Houston Dash benefitted from the mega-trade last week with an early goal from Sofia Huerta, but mistakes from the defense allowed the Portland Thorns to sneak goals in. And Australian midfielder Alanna Kennedy scored from midfield against the Washington Spirit when she caught Aubrey Bledsoe off her line. The league table remains tight, with Seattle, Portland, and Chicago all sitting at 19 points. Only 8 points separate No. 2 Orlando Pride from No. 7 Houston Dash, and the race to a playoff spot is sure to be a close one. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from this week:
Houston Dash vs. Portland Thorns (1-3)
Seattle Reign vs. North Carolina Courage (1-4)
Washington Spirit vs. Orlando Pride (0-1)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Utah Royals (0-2)
Top Three Goalkeepers
1. Ashlyn Harris— Harris was one of only two goalkeepers to earn a shutout in Week 13. While Ashley Hatch recorded the most shots for the Spirit at five, Harris’ biggest threat came in the 84th minute from Caprice Dydasco. Dydasco launched her shot from just outside the 18-yard box and Harris had to fully extend to knock the ball to the side, where it eventually went out of play for a goal kick. Harris faced 17 shots and made three saves on the night, earning her fourth shutout of the year.
2. Alyssa Naeher— Naeher was the other goalkeeper to earn a shutout in Week 13. The U.S Women’s National Team starter has proven her worth time and time again throughout this season, and this week was no exception. Naeher faced 11 shots and made three saves against the Utah Royals. Her best moment came early in the match, when Becky Sauerbrunn sent a ball into the box for Katrina Gorry. Gorry, who took her chance with a header. The ball bounced off of Naeher’s hands and she scrambled to try to pick it up before it was cleared away by the Chicago defense.
3. Adriana Franch— Franch returned to the starting lineup for the Portland Thorns this weekend after missing the first half of the season due to meniscus surgery on her right knee. While Franch didn’t have to make a lot of saves on the evening, the save she did make was a critical one. In the 14th minute, less than two minutes after Sofia Huerta’s goal, the Dash had the chance to go up 2-1. On a corner kick, the ball deflected off a Portland defender and Claire Polkinghorne—one of the newest additions to the Dash roster— had the chance to score her first goal. Polkinghorne headed the ball towards the back post, but Franch read it perfectly. She jumped in the air and got both hands on the ball, falling to the ground with her grasp firmly on the ball.
Top Three Defenders
1. Estelle Johnson— Johnson, who we highlighted last week for her defensive performances against Sky Blue and the Seattle Reign, had another solid week for the Washington Spirit. They were facing off against the Orlando Pride, who have been on a hot streak and have one of the strongest offensive rosters in the league. Surprisingly, the lone goal of the game came when Alanna Kennedy caught Aubrey Bledsoe off her line and took a shot from midfield. Johnson and her teammates managed to hold off attacks from Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Chioma Ubogagu, keeping the Pride’s goal tally at one. Johnson had a particularly impressive stop in the 61st minute. Alex Morgan was running down the left side of the field, with Christine Nairn in the middle, but Johnson kept up with her and timed the tackle right so that she kicked the ball out of bounds. Overall, Johnson had four tackles, four clearances, and one interception on the night.
2. Julie Ertz— Ertz played center back for the Chicago Red Stars in their 2-0 victory over the Utah Royals on Saturday night. This is Ertz’s second straight match at center back due to Sam Johnson’s trade to the Utah Royals. While the Red Stars would probably rather have Ertz’s talents in the midfield, especially after she missed the beginning of the season due to injury, she has also stepped up on the backline. Ertz recorded eight clearances and one block in the game.
3. Rachel Corsie— Corsie has had a great inaugural season so far with the Utah Royals. Laura Harvey has her paired with Becky Sauerbrunn in the central defense, and they are arguably two of the best center backs in the league. This week, they didn’t quite get the job done— the Utah Royals lost the match 2-0 against the Chicago Red Stars. But they did have a few impressive moments, including a goal-line stop by Corsie. In the 83rd minute, Sam Kerr found herself charging down the field ahead of both Sauerbrunn and Corsie. Abby Smith had to backtrack and eventually faced Kerr, who couldn’t get enough on the shot. With Smith off her line, Sauerbrunn and Corsie had to run back to the line to stop the ball from rolling in. Sauerbrunn slipped, but got her body in the way, and Corsie managed to stop the ball with her foot just before it rolled over the line.
Top Three Attackers
1. Crystal Dunn— The North Carolina Courage already had a stellar offense last season, with players like Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald, but Crystal Dunn has proven to be a goal-scoring machine for the No. 1 ranked team. Dunn scored two goals this weekend in the Courage’s 4-1 victory over the Seattle Reign, bringing her season total up to six. Her first goal came in the 33rd minute, when the Courage were drawing 1-1 after giving up the early goal. Dunn got a good ball from Lynn Williams and set up her shot just inside the 18-yard box. Lydia Williams couldn’t extend to stop it and Dunn gave her team the lead. Her second goal came in the 70th minute. Again, Dunn got a nice ball from Lynn Williams. She ran with it inside the 18-yard box and sent a ball past Lydia Williams and into the far corner. Dunn is No. 2 in the league for goals this season, behind only Christine Sinclair at seven.
2. Lynn Williams— Williams also had herself a day against the Seattle Reign, tallying a goal of her own and two assists in the 4-1 victory. Williams assisted both of the goals scored by Crystal Dunn. In both instances, Williams was able to find Dunn with some space. In addition to those two assists, Williams also had a goal of her own in the 27th minute. Jaelene Hinkle sent the ball into the box and Williams was able to beat her defender and sneak a powerful header past Lydia Williams. Lynn Williams now has four goals and three assists on the season.
3. Christine Sinclair— Sinclair played her 100th match of her NWSL career on Friday night against the Houston Dash. She got things started early, with an assist to Tobin Heath in the 9th minute. Sinclair gets the ball and just passes it on ahead, finding Tobin Heath who sneaks one between the legs of Jane Campbell. It would take a bit longer for Sinclair to find a goal of her own, but she did find one in the 83rd minute. She took her shot from outside of the 18-yard box, just trying to send one over the head of Jane Campbell, and the ball went through Campbell’s hands. Sinclair continues to lead the league in goals this season with seven.