The NWSL Podium: Top Performances is a weekly series looking at the top three goalkeeping, defensive, and attacking performances each week. It was another week of tight score lines in the NWSL, with three of the four matches ending in a 1-1 draw. The North Carolina Courage remain undefeated, with one draw and five wins in their six matches so far this season. The Utah Royals found their first goal at Rio Tinto Stadium, although Utah, Sky Blue, and Houston are still searching for their first win of the season. The NWSL table is starting to take shape, but it’s hard to ignore the domination of the North Carolina Courage, with seven points more than the second place Chicago Red Stars. Here is how the Week 5 matches finished:
Houston Dash vs. North Carolina Courage (0-2)
Washington Spirit vs. Chicago Red Stars (1-1)
Orlando Pride vs. Seattle Reign (1-1)
Utah Royals vs. Portland Thorns (1-1)
Top Three Goalkeepers
1. Aubrey Bledsoe— Bledsoe has always been a quality goalkeeper, and this year she is getting the chance to shine as the starter for the Washington Spirit. Her performance on Saturday was stellar. She faced 17 shots from the Chicago Red Stars and made three saves, keeping her team level against one of the best offenses in the leagues. She had a couple of good moments, but her best save of the night came in the 41st minute. Danielle Colaprico sent a corner into the box, which was then headed by Samantha Johnson. Bledsoe made a diving save and the ball bounced off her fingertips. It was enough to earn her the NWSL Save of the Week for the second week in a row.
2. Abby Smith— Facing a Portland Thorns offense that includes Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, and Tobin Heath is daunting for any defense. But Smith made a few impressive stops, helping her team get a point in front of their home crowd. In the 18th minute, Smith punched a shot from Midge Purce out of the 18-yard box. Her lone save came in the 50th minute, when she blocked a shot off a Portland free kick that was heading for goal. She hit the ball into the air on the initial save, but was able to follow the ball and catch it. Overall, the Utah Royals put together a solid performance against the Portland Thorns, with the only moment of weakness coming when Smith was bested one-on-one with Tobin Heath.
3. Sabrina D’Angelo— D’Angelo was the only NWSL goalkeeper to walk away with a clean sheet this weekend, her fourth of six matches so far this season. While the North Carolina Courage definitely dominated possession, D’Angelo was able to shut down the chances that Houston created. In the 26th minute, Amber Brooks launched a header towards goal, but D’Angelo stretched out her hand and was able to deflect it. As she came down, the ball continued to bounce in the box and she had to dive right back in, blocking Nichelle Prince. D’Angelo had three saves in the match.
Top Three Defenders
1. Janine Van Wyk— While the Houston defense definitely struggled against the North Carolina Courage, Van Wyk and her teammates still had some good moments. Van Wyk had a particularly nice double-save in the 6th minute, where she made a sliding stop to keep McDonald from getting the ball. The ball deflected off her leg and to the feet of Lynn Williams, but before Van Wyk had even fully stood, she slid to stop Williams from getting a shot off. She had another good stop in the 74th minute, when she headed away a shot from Crystal Dunn. The shot bounced off her head and she fell to the ground, but still, she was able to make the save. Houston faced 27 shots from North Carolina, and the talent of Van Wyk and others on the Houston defense kept that score line from being worse than it was.
2. Becky Sauerbrunn— Sauerbrunn is one of the top defenders in the NWSL, and her talents showed as she faced off against the Portland offense this week. In the 20th minute, a bad giveaway in the box led to Christine Sinclair finding her first look at goal. But a sliding block from Sauerbrunn sent the ball flying into the stands. She also helped her teammate take on Sinclair in the 75th minute, when Sinclair was once again setting up her shot.
3. Kristen McNabb— McNabb played the full 90 minutes for the Seattle Reign this weekend in Orlando, and had a few solid defensive moments. It isn’t easy to hold back the likes of Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Marta, but the Seattle Reign defense held back all but one of the Pride’s 18 shots. McNabb tracked Morgan in the 14th minute, and made a sliding tackle that stripped Morgan of the ball. The Seattle defense did a good job of positioning themselves throughout the night in a way that made it difficult for the Pride to take clear shots.
Top Three Attackers
1. Amy Rodriguez— Rodriguez has been plagued by injuries the last two NWSL seasons, and everyone was excited to see what she would do this year when she took the pitch for the Utah Royals. On Saturday, she brought that spark of magic to the pitch. In the 53rd minute of the game, Rodriguez was able to strip the Portland defender of the ball and calmly place it into the back of the net. The goal marked the first for Rodriguez this season and the first-ever goal in Rio Tinto Stadium for the Utah Royals. She also had a fabulous defensive moment in the 36th minute– a save on the goal line that kept the Portland Thorns from pulling ahead.
2. Marta— The Orlando Pride definitely missed their legendary midfielder, and she made her presence known on the field this weekend at Orlando City Stadium. She had a total of four shots on goal, and found the back of the net in the 61st minute to give Orlando the equalizer. Her goal came off a free kick. She got her foot under the ball, sent it over the Seattle Reign wall and into the top-right corner of the net. The goal was a beauty, and reminded Orlando Pride fans why, despite all their offensive talent, they missed having Marta on the pitch.
3. Francisca Ordega— This weekend against the Chicago Red Stars, Francisca Ordega found her third goal in five matches for the Washington Spirit. Ordega put the Spirit ahead early in the match, finishing off a cross from Mallory Pugh in the 4th minute. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but it gave the Spirit an early lead. Ordega is hoping to score more goals this season so she can continue showing off her dance moves to the Spirit fans.