The NWSL Podium: Top Performances in Week 20

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The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series that looks at the best attacking, defensive, and goalkeeping performances each week.

With only a handful of games left for each team this season, the race for a spot in the NWSL playoffs is heating up. In Week 20, the Seattle Reign moved closer to cementing their spot as a playoff team with a 1-0 win over the Utah Royals in a hot and smoky afternoon match. The Chicago Red Stars earned a point against the North Carolina Courage, which they needed to keep their playoff hopes afloat. The Orlando Pride seem to be slipping from that playoff spot, losing 2-0 at home to the Portland Thorns this weekend. While the Seattle Reign are starting to pull away in second, this week did little to clarify who will be going on to the postseason and who’s season will soon come to an end. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from Week 20:

Utah Royals vs. Washington Spirit (1-0)

Chicago Red Stars vs. North Carolina Courage (1-1)

Utah Royals vs. Seattle Reign (0-1)

Sky Blue vs. Houston Dash (1-2)

Orlando Pride vs. Portland Thorns (0-2)

Top Three Goalkeepers

1. Adriana Franch— Franch had an outstanding night for Portland against the Orlando Pride in Week 20. She faced thirteen shots from the Pride offense and made six saves, earning her second shutout of the year. In the opening minutes of the game, the Orlando Pride earned a corner and Franch had to punch the ball twice to keep it out of the net. In the 63rd minute, Marta took a shot that forced Franch to make a diving save, which earned an NWSL Save of the Week nomination. When Marta launched another shot in the 88th minute, Franch was able to get her fingertips too it and knock the ball over the net to keep her clean sheet.

2. Abby Smith Smith returned to the Starting XI for the Utah Royals this weekend after missing a few weeks due to injury, and the Seattle Reign decided to test her early. Rapinoe started things off with a powerful shot in the tenth minute. Smith positioned herself correctly, but with the strength on the ball, she juggled it a bit before making the final catch. Rapinoe took another shot from about 30 yards out in the 17th minute. But Smith fell to her right and blocked the ball. That stop earned her an NWSL Save of the Week nomination. Overall, Smith made five saves and faced ten shots from the Seattle Reign. 

3. Jane Campbell The Houston Dash are keeping themselves alive in the playoff picture with 26 points, just four points off the No. 4 Orlando Pride, but there chances are distant. Still, they wanted to leave New Jersey with three points and that meant holding off a Sky Blue offense that had scored three goals in the two matches prior to this one. Campbell faced sixteen shots from Sky Blue FC and made five saves.  Houston dominated the attack at the beginning of the match, scoring an early goal. But the Sky Blue offense came charging forward in the 29th minute. Imani Dorsey had a good ball served to her, and she got behind the Houston defense, forcing Campbell to bat the shot away. Savannah McCaskill settled the rebound, but sent the ball flying over the net. That save earned her an NWSL Save of the Week nomination. 

Top Three Defenders

1. Abby Erceg— We’ve run out of superlatives for the North Carolina Courage, and the same is quickly becoming true of Abby Erceg. She has been on the NWSL Team of the Month every month this year for a reason. In the match against the Chicago Red Stars, she faced a stronger offense than the Courage had seen in previous weeks. In the first part of the match, Erceg did a good job at heading the ball any time it got near the 18-yard box. Chicago’s offense built more momentum at the end of the first half, but the North Carolina defense denied them too many serious chances. One example of her importance could be seen in the second half, when Chicago tried to mount an attack on North Carolina. Chicago was trying to get the ball into the box, but twice in the 74th minute, Erceg just sent the ball back to the midfield before Chicago could put an attack together. 

2. Katie Naughton Naughton played in the central defense alongside Julie Ertz in the match against the North Carolina Courage and they both did a fantastic job at holding off the North Carolina offense. Naughton had a particularly impressive moment towards the end of the match, when North Carolina was looking for that second goal and three points on the road. The ball came into the box for Lynn Williams, and Alyssa Naeher tried to grab the ball but Williams got their first. Naughton covered Williams while Naeher got back on her line, and Naughton tracked Williams up and down the box, until she had no choice but to send a poor cross/shot in that Naeher grabbed easily. 

3. Taylor Comeau— Comeau put up another solid performance for the Houston Dash on Saturday night against Sky Blue. She played at right-back and helped her team get the ball forward to create scoring chances. Her best defensive moment of the night came in stoppage time, when Sky Blue was searching for the equalizer. Comeau cleared the initial chance, blocked a shot from Sky Blue, and tracked her player forcing Sky Blue to make an awkward cross into the ball for another attempt. 

Top Three Attackers

1. Rachel Daly— Daly had a brace this week against Sky Blue FC, helping her team secure three points on the road. The first goal came in the 7th minute, after Ohai did some nice work to get the ball down the field. Daly finished off her cross, heading the ball past Kailen Sheridan and into the back of the net for an early lead. Daly’s second goal came off a penalty in the 72nd minute, after Raquel Rodriguez was called for a hand ball. Daly sent Sheridan the other way and put the ball into the top corner. Daly had five shots and four shots on goal that night. 

2. Jess Fishlock— The Utah-Seattle match was important for both sides, and both teams were desperate to walk away with three points. Fishlock was the difference-maker for Seattle, scoring the only goal of the match in the 48th minute. Utah cleared the ball after a short corner, but Megan Oyster kept the ball in play, sending it into the box for Fishlock who was able to get her head to it and send it past Abby Smith. Fishlock had two shots in the match, both of which were on goal. 

3. Hayley Raso— Raso was on fire for the Portland Thorns in Saturday night’s match against the Orlando Pride. In another match-up critical to the playoff race, Raso solidified her team’s 2-0 win with a goal in the 53rd minute. After getting the ball from Ana Crnogorcevic, Raso charged past the Pride defenders and beat Harris in front of the net. Raso had a couple of other close chances, including one in the 16th minute that went off the post. Overall, she played a critical role in helping her team create chances. She had four shots in the match, one of which was on goal. 

Image courtesy of Corri Goates