The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series that looks at the best attacking, defensive, and goalkeeping performances each week.
Another week gone in the NWSL, and we are no to figuring out who will finish in those last three playoff spots. Week 15 was packed with goals, with an average of four goals scored in each of the five matches. It was also a good week for the home team, with only Sky Blue dropping points at home. The Orlando Pride picked up three points at home thanks to a crazy last-minute goal from Marta. Sam Kerr, who left Sky Blue in the offseason to join the Chicago Red Stars, scored her first hat-trick of the season against her former team. And Friday night’s matchup between the Utah Royals and the Portland Thorns saw three Thorns players earn a goal and an assist. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from this week:
North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars (4-1)
Portland Thorns vs. Utah Royals (4-0)
Sky Blue vs. Chicago Red Stars (1-3)
Orlando Pride vs. Washington Spirit (2-1)
Seattle Reign vs. Houston Dash (3-1)
Top Three Goalkeepers
1. Adriana Franch— Since returning from injury last month, Franch has been on fire for the Portland Thorns. However, this was her first clean sheet since coming back and the only clean sheet in Week 15. In the Portland Thorns 4-0 victory over Utah, the Royals had some trouble getting their offense going. Franch only faced seven shots, making three saves. But those saves were critical to keeping the clean sheet and preventing the Royals from creating any sort of comeback. Her best save came in the 57th minute. Katrina Gorry found a window and launched her shot from outside the 18-yard box. Franch reached up and caught the ball, pulling it down smoothly. It was enough to earn her an NWSL Save of the Week nomination.
2. Aubrey Bledsoe— Bledsoe has been a star for a Washington Spirit roster that has otherwise struggled. While she gave up two goals in the Spirit’s loss against her former team, she also had some fantastic saves that kept the Spirit in the match. The Pride created their first real scoring opportunity in the 7th minute. Krieger slipped through the Spirit defense and passed the ball to Marta, who was unmarked. Marta sent a rocket at Bledsoe, who was able to dive and push the ball out. In the 27th minute, Marta came charging down the field. She passed the ball off to Chioma Obogagu, who tried to put the ball in just under the cross bar. Bledsoe jumped and got her fingers on it, tapping the ball over the net and keeping the Pride at bay. Overall, Bledsoe faced 31 shots from the Pride and made 10 saves.
3. Alyssa Naeher— The Chicago Red Stars had a busy week, facing the North Carolina Courage on Wednesday before flying to New Jersey to take on Sky Blue on Saturday. Naeher didn’t have the best game against the Courage— the Red Stars lost 4-1 on the road. But she and the rest of her team rebounded on Saturday against Sky Blue. Their opponents looked to score early on in the match, with Carli Lloyd sending a ball through the defense to Imani Dorsey. Dorsey was one-on-one with Naeher, but Naeher made the call to come off her line and made a sliding save just as Dorsey got her shot off. Naeher had another impressive save when Savannah McCaskill managed to get behind the Sky Blue defense and passed the ball off to Imani Dorsey. Dorsey took her shot, but Naeher blocked the shot and the ball deflected. Naeher faced nine shots from Sky Blue and made four saves on the night.
Top Three Defenders
1. Denise O’Sullivan— O’Sullivan is a versatile midfielder who can often be found on the scoring sheet for the North Carolina Courage. But this week, O’Sullivan found herself with a Save of the Week nomination. Her superb defensive moment came in the 16th minute. Danielle Colaprico sent a corner into the box that found the head of Morgan Brian. It looked like the ball was going into the top corner but O’Sullivan jumped up with a header of her own and saved the ball on the line. Her follow-up header allowed the North Carolina Courage to clear the ball and the match remained scoreless. The Courage went on to win the match 4-1.
2. Amber Brooks— Much of the talk about Brooks this week isn’t about her defensive skill, but about the goal she scored against the Seattle Reign in the 12th minute. The goal— a lower header off the corner from Sofia Huerta— is Brooks’ first goal of the season. But her defensive skill in the match against the Seattle Reign should not be overlooked. Brooks had five tackles, nine clearances, six interceptions, and one block against Seattle.
3. Estelle Johnson— Despite disappointing results, Johnson and Church have been solid central defenders over the last few weeks. The Pride offense roared with life against the Spirit, and it took a lot of defensive effort to keep the Spirit in the match. In the 33rd minute, Leroux tried to twist around Johnson and take a shot, but Johnson blocked it and the ball went into the side-netting. She had another good block in 52nd minute, when Marta passed the ball off to Sydney Leroux just outside of the 18-yard box. Leroux got a lot of power into the shot, but Johnson stuck her foot out and stopped it. In almost the same position just two minutes later, Johnson blocked another similar shot from Marta.
Top Three Attackers
1. Sam Kerr— Kerr returned to Yurcak Field on Saturday night to face her former team, Sky Blue. After being frustrated in Wednesday night’s match against the North Carolina Courage, Kerr found a rhythm in New Jersey. Her first goal came in the 40th minute. Alyssa Mautz sent the ball into the box a little behind Kerr, but Kerr was able to backtrack and get possession. She set up her shot on the edge of the 18-yard box and sent her shot into the bottom corner. She kept that momentum going right at the start of the second half. In the 46th minute, Kerr received a nice ball inside the box from Yuki Nagasato. Kerr brought the ball down and launched her shot into the far bottom corner. The ball went through the legs of Madison Tiernan and into the back of the net. But she wasn’t finished yet. In the 63rd minute, Nagasato sent another brilliant ball in for Kerr, who slipped behind the defense. She went one-on-one with Sheridan and won, once again playing the ball in the bottom corner. This is Kerr’s first hat trick of the season. She leads the league with eight goals this season.
2. Tobin Heath— The Thorns had been shaky going into Week 15, and they knew they needed to pick up three points at home. Heath started things early in the match against the Utah Royals. Her goal— the first of four for Portland that night— came in the 2nd minute. Crnogorcevic and Heath were surrounded by Utah defenders, but Crnogorcevic set up the shot for Heath and she chipped goalkeeper Abby Smith. It took nearly 30 minutes for them to score again, and this time it was Heath and Horan who teamed up for the goal. The Thorns won a free kick and Heath sent the ball into the 18-yard box. Horan jumped up and got her head on it, sending the ball into the back of the net. The Thorns went on to win the match 4-0, with one goal and one assist from Heath, Crnogorcevic, and Horan.
3. Marta— With Alex Morgan out due to injury, Marta took over at the center-forward position for the Orlando Pride in their match against the Washington Spirit. From the beginning, you could tell that Marta was going to find the back of the net. She recorded a total of eleven shots that night, five shots on goal, and created a total of eight chances. But her best moment came in the 86th minute. The game was tied 1-1 thanks to goals from Ashley Hatch and Sydney Leroux, but the Pride wanted the three points at home. They were being frustrated by the Washington Spirit, and had a goal from Dani Weatherholt called back due to a foul. As leaders do, Marta saw an opportunity and stepped up to the plate. She received the pass from Leroux and ran down the field, with the Spirit defense trying to keep up. When Marta got into the box, she had Whitney Church in front of her and Estelle Johnson a little farther back. Marta stepped from side-to-side, finally getting around her defenders and took the shot. It went over the fingertips of Aubrey Bledsoe and bounced off the cross-bar, into the back of the net. The goal was enough to get the Pride those three points and keep the Pride in the hunt for the playoffs.