The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series that looks at the best attacking, defensive, and goalkeeping performances each week.
Week 22 has come and gone, and the NWSL playoffs are starting to take shape. This week, the Portland Thorns clinched their ticket to the playoffs with a 2-1 win over Sky Blue and followed it up with a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit in their game at Audi Field. The Orlando Pride were eliminated from the playoffs after a 3-1 loss at the hands of Chicago Red Stars. The Dash were also eliminated from the playoffs despite their 6-1 victory over Sky Blue on Saturday, leaving the Red Stars and the Utah Royals competing for the last playoff spot. Here is a full breakdown of the scores from Week 22:
Seattle Reign vs. Houston Dash (2-0)
Washington Spirit vs. Utah Royals (0-1)
Portland Thorns vs. Sky Blue (2-1)
Seattle Reign vs. North Carolina Courage (1-1)
Orlando Pride vs. Chicago Red Stars (1-3)
Washington Spirit vs. Portland Thorns (0-1)
Houston Dash vs. Sky Blue (6-1)
Top Three Goalkeepers
1. Lydia Williams— Williams has had an amazing season, and she put forth two great performances in Week 22. Seattle’s first match of the week was on Tuesday night against the Houston Dash. Williams earned her 10th shutout of the year, making three saves out of thirteen shots faced. But her skills really shined against the North Carolina offense on Saturday, where she made twelve shots out of 29 shots faced. Jess McDonald challenged Williams early on. McDonald snuck behind the defense and launched a shot at Williams, who blocked the shot with her hands and Megan Oyster cleared it off the line. In 27th minute, McDonald had a solid header right in front of Williams. Williams reacted instantly, blocking the shot with her hands and then jumping on the ball to end the play. That save earned her an NWSL Save of the Week nomination.
2. Adriana Franch— The Portland Thorns faced two of the weaker offenses in the NWSL this week— Sky Blue and the Washington Spirit. But Franch made some important saves in both matches, shutting down any opportunities from the opposing team. In the first match against Sky Blue, Franch faced fourteen shots and made four saves. In the 21st minute, Savannah McCaskill got her head on a nice cross, but Franch was there to calmly collect the ball. In the 69th minute, Raquel Rodriguez sent the ball into the box and Franch caught it, shutting down the Sky Blue offense. In the weekend match against the Spirit, Franch faced nine shots and made two saves. In the 33rd minute, Rose Lavelle launched a rocket from the edge of the eighteen-yard box. Franch got her hands up in time, knocking the ball away and collecting it before the Spirit offense could gain control. The match marked Franch’s third shutout of the year.
3. Jane Campbell— While Campbell failed to get a shutout in either of her matches this week, she faced a solid offensive effort from both opponents and made some impressive saves. In the Houston Dash’s first match of the week against the Seattle Reign, Campbell faced 16 shots and made six saves. In the 45th minute, Rapinoe tried to send a free kick into the top corner of the net and she might have succeeded, but Campbell read the play and hit the ball over the net. In the 53rd minute, Rapinoe handed the ball off to Jess Fishlock, who took a shot from outside the 18-yard box. Campbell got both hands to it, knocking the ball out of play. That save earned her an NWSL Save of the Week nomination. In the Dash’s match against Sky Blue, Campbell faced fourteen shots and made four saves.
Top Three Defenders
1. Theresa Nielsen— Nielsen had an impressive week for the Seattle Reign, playing the full 90 minutes in both matches. She had a notable offensive impact in addition to her defensive skill. In the first match against the Houston Dash, Nielsen assisted on Jodie Taylor’s first goal of the night. In the match against the North Carolina Courage, Nielsen scored her first goal of the season. In the 66th minute, Jess Fishlock took a corner kick that went to the far end of the 18-yard box. Nielsen headed the ball, and Jodie Taylor and Katelyn Rowland collided, allowing the ball to bounce past both of them and into the net. Nielsen then turned around and had a goal-line save in the 88th minute. Abby Erceg got her head on a North Carolina corner kick, but Nielsen was able to get her head to the ball as well and clear it off the line.
2. Becky Sauerbrunn— Sauerbrunn played an important role in Utah’s 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit. In the 15th minute, Mallory Pugh tried to sneak a pass past the Utah Royals, but Sauerbrunn intercepted the pass and cleared the ball. In the 61st minute, Pugh was on the move again. She tried to pass the ball in the 18-yard box to Ashley Hatch, but Sauerbrunn stretched and blocked the pass. The Utah Royals are still in the playoff hunt, with their final game of the season against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday Sept. 8th.
3. Lauren Barnes— Barnes also put in two 90 minutes shifts for the Reign this week in the central defense. In the game against Houston, she had a particularly nice block and strip on Rachel Daly. As Daly ran with the ball, Barnes blocked her and gained control of the play. She turned and cleared the ball, sending Houston down to the other side of the field. In the match against North Carolina, she tackled Jess McDonald and regained possession for the Reign. Barnes has been a critical part of the Seattle defense this year and will continue to be going into the playoffs.
Top Three Attackers
1. Sam Kerr— It was a critical week for the Chicago Red Stars— playing a match on the road against another team vying for the playoffs— and Kerr showed up. She earned two goals and an assist in Chicago’s 3-1 victory over the Orlando Pride on Saturday night. Her first goal came in the 44th minute. Colaprico sent the ball down field, and Nagasato kept the ball rolling towards Kerr, who slipped past most of the Pride defense. She dribbled the ball a bit, getting herself into the best position to slide the ball past Ashlyn Harris and into the net. But Chicago wanted more before the halftime whistle, and Kerr helped make it happen. In the first minute of stoppage time in the first half, Kerr got the ball at her feet, but didn’t have the angle to take a shot. She sent the ball into the box and Vanessa DiBernardo finished off the play, giving Chicago their second goal of the night. In the 59th minute, Kerr stripped Kennedy of the ball and buried her shot in the back of the net, putting Chicago up 3-0. Kerr was voted NWSL Player of the Week in Week 22.
2. Sofia Huerta— The Houston Dash had a rough start to Week 22 with a 2-0 to the Seattle Reign, but there offense bounced back with a 6-1 win over Sky Blue later in the week. She had one goal and one assist, and drew the penalty that lead to Rachel Daly’s goal in the 67th minute. In the 48th minute, Huerta sent a cross into the box and Veronica Latsko got her head on the ball, getting a nice bounce on the ball that Kailen Sheridan couldn’t stop. In the 65th minute, Huerta got a goal of her own. Kealia Ohai sent the ball into the box and Sofia Huerta got her foot on it. It wasn’t clear if she intended it to be a shot, but the ball went into the far side of the net. She ended the night with seven shots and four shots on goal.
3. Tobin Heath— Heath scored two goals in two games for the Portland Thorns this week, against Sky Blue and the Washington Spirit. In the match against the Spirit, she dribbled around the defense and put her ball just under the crossbar for the lone goal of the match. The goal earned her the NWSL Goal of the Week honors. In the match against Sky Blue, Heath scored off a free kick. Her ball took a good bounce and went past Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan. She had seven shots and four shots on goal across both games.