The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series that looks at the best attacking, defensive, and goalkeeping performances each week.
The playoffs are inching closer and closer, but Week 16 did little to clarify who will make it and who will fall short. North Carolina officially clinched a playoff spot after their 4-0 win over Sky Blue FC on Saturday night. The Houston Dash and the Utah Royals are starting to fall behind after losing their weekend matches, but they are still only eight and seven points, respectively, away from the No. 4 spot. And the Seattle Reign dropped points on the road, eliminating any buffer they had created in the No. 2 spot. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from this week:
North Carolina Courage vs. Washington Spirit (2-0)
Houston Dash vs. Orlando Pride (3-1)
Seattle Reign vs. Utah Royals (1-0)
Sky Blue vs. North Carolina Courage (0-4)
Utah Royals vs. Orlando Pride (1-2)
Chicago Red Stars vs. Seattle Reign (1-0)
Portland Thorns vs. Houston Dash (3-1)
Top Three Goalkeepers
1. Nicole Barnhart— Barnhart proved on Saturday night why she is exactly the type of player you want as a back-up goalkeeper. In the 67th minute, Abby Smith took a rough fall and couldn’t continue the match. Barnhart warmed up on the sidelines and came in at the 72nd minute. Immediately, she was tested by Sydney Leroux. In the 73rd minute, Leroux had Barnhart at the post and Leroux tried to sneak the ball past her, but Barnhart blocked the shot with her knee. While Utah lost the game 2-1, no goals were scored after Barnhart came on. In the final 20 minutes of the match, she made two saves.
2. Katelyn Rowland— Rowland earned two shutouts this week in North Carolina’s matches against the Washington Spirit and Sky Blue. In her match against the Washington Spirit, she faced six shots and made four saves. Her best save of the night came in the 83rd minute, when Ashley Hatch snuck past the North Carolina defense and took a shot, but Rowland got in front of the ball and pushed it out of bounds, forcing an unsuccessful corner kick. In her match against Sky Blue, she faced twelve shots and made five saves, including a great save in the 25th minute after Savannah McCaskill got behind the defense. Rowland ran right up to McCaskill and blocked her shot. Rowland now has four shutouts and 35 saves on the season.
3. Alyssa Naeher— Naeher earned her sixth shutout of the season in a must-win match for the Chicago Red Stars against the Seattle Reign. She faced thirteen shots and made three saves on the night. Most of her saves came early on in the match, shutting down the attacking skills of Megan Rapinoe and Jodie Taylor. But her best save came in the 78th minute, when Jasmyne Spencer outran the Chicago defense and took a shot. Naeher followed the ball and punched it out of bounds.
Top Three Defenders
1. Rachel Corsie— Corsie was one of the few Utah defenders left for Saturday’s match, after a spate of injuries and yellow card accumulations decimated the ranks. And Corsie made her presence known against the Orlando Pride, earning an assist on the only Royals goal of the match and creating some pretty impressive defensive moments. Orlando tried to get things started early in the game, and one clear example of Corsie’s skill came in the 4th minute, when Chioma Ubogagu sent a ball into the box with Alex Morgan and Rachel Hill in the area. Corsie was able to stick to her spot and clear the ball, keeping the Orlando offense at bay. But her best moment of the game came in the 65th minute. Abby Smith was at the edge of the 18-yard box and kicked the ball away to the feet of Sydney Leroux. Leroux sent the ball over Smith’s head, but Corsie had already run behind her goalkeeper and managed to get the slightest touch on the ball with her head, sending it wide of the net. The moment was enough to earn her a Save of the Week nomination.
2. Lauren Barnes— Barnes played the full 90 minutes for Seattle in both of their matches this week, which saw the Reign earn three points against the Utah Royals at home but drop points against Chicago on the road. In the match against Chicago, she had a couple of particularly impressive moments against Sam Kerr. In the 77th minute, Sarah Gorden sent a ball in for Kerr, but Barnes was able to disrupt the play and the ball landed easily into the arms of Michelle Betos. And just a few minutes later, Kerr came charging down the field past Megan Oyster, but Barnes was able to make a clean sliding tackle and dispose Kerr. The Seattle Reign currently sit in the No. 2 spot on the table, with Barnes having started in 11 out of their 17 matches.
3. Abby Erceg— Erceg is one of the best defenders in the league, having been named to the NWSL Team of the Month in both May and June. This week, she made her way onto the scoresheet, in addition to helping her team earn two shutouts. She scored the first goal for North Carolina against Sky Blue— a scorching header off a cross from Kristen Hamilton. But even with that offensive effort, it was her work in the back that was most important. In the 40th minute of the match against the Spirit, Estefania Banini sent a pass forward to Ashley Hatch inside the 18-yard box, but Erceg was able to get ahead of Hatch and kick the ball out for a throw-in. About 10 minutes later, the Spirit tried to set up something, but when the ball came into the box, Erceg was able to clear it and it landed at the feet of her teammate. Erceg has started in all 18 matches for the Courage this season.
Top Three Attackers
1. Lynn Williams— Williams became the second player this season to score a hat trick after she found the back of the net three times against Sky Blue on Saturday night. The goals all came in the second half, starting with her first goal in the 56th minute. Debinha sent the ball forward for Williams and Kristen Hamilton. The ball fell to Hamilton’s feet, forcing Sheridan off her line. Instead of shooting, Hamilton passed the ball off to Williams, who was able to tap it into the back of the net. In the 72nd minute, Debinha sent the ball down the field to Williams, who went one-on-one with Sheridan and was able to put the ball past her into the bottom corner of the net. She wrapped things up in the 89th minute, capitalizing off a mistake by Sheridan. Williams now has 8 goals on the season and is in third place for the Golden Boot behind Lindsey Horan and Sam Kerr.
2. Sam Kerr— Kerr came up with another important goal this week when the Chicago Red Stars hosted the Seattle Reign on Saturday night. The game was scoreless despite the teams having a combined total of 32 shots and nine shots on goal throughout the game, including seven shots and four shots on goal for Kerr. Kerr changed that scoresheet in the 87th minute. Nagasato was able to capitalize off a poor goalkick by Michelle Betos, heading the ball right to the feet of Kerr who was unmarked. Kerr sent the ball to the far corner and it slid right past Betos. The goal was enough to earn the Red Stars three points at home and marked Kerr’s 9th goal of the season, putting her equal with Lindsey Horan for most goals this year.
3. Lindsey Horan— After a couple of rough matches, the Portland Thorns are starting to find their rhythm again and that means more goals from Lindsey Horan. Horan scored two of the Thorns three goals this weekend in their home match against the Houston Dash, starting in the 16th minute when Emily Sonnett sent a ball into the 18-yard box. The ball drew Jane Campbell off her line and Horan was able to head the ball past her. Her second goal came in the 31st minute when Heath sent a free-kick into the 18-yard box. Crnogorcevic got her head on it first, but the ball bounced off the crossbar and to the foot of Horan who just taps it in. Horan had six shots and four shots on goal that night.