The NWSL Podium: Top Performances in Week 9

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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.

Week 9 of NWSL action was a wild one. Across the seven matches played– three midweek and four over the weekend–there were 26 goals. The Orlando Pride, who scored eight of those goals, seem to have found their stride on the attacking side, while still being held back by arguably the sloppiest defense in the league. The Houston Dash had a fantastic week, taking six points in their two matches against the Seattle Reign and the Washington Spirit. The Reign have slowed down since their 4-1 win over Sky Blue in Week 7, with just two goals scored in their last three matches. And the Chicago Red Stars, who haven’t won a match since April 18th, will need to pick up the pieces after allowing the Orlando Pride to score five goals in Saturday’s Lifetime Game of the Week.

It was a great week for offense, but not so great of a week for goalkeeping. Here is a full list of scores from Week 9:

Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage (3-4)

Washington Spirit vs. Sky Blue (1-0)

Houston Dash vs. Seattle Reign (2-1)

Portland Thorns vs. Utah Royals (2-0)

Chicago Red Stars vs. Orlando Pride (2-5)

Sky Blue vs. Seattle Reign (0-1)

Houston Dash vs. Washington Spirit (3-2)

Top Three Goalkeepers

1. Kailen Sheridan Goalkeepers was a tough category this week. Kailen Sheridan allowed two goals while her team suffered two losses. Britt Eckerstrom and Lydia Williams, who each played one game this week, each got a clean sheet and Aubrey Bledsoe got the clean sheet against Sky Blue on Wednesday. But Bledsoe fell apart in the weekend match against the Houston Dash, and both Williams and Eckerstrom weren’t forced to make a lot of saves in their respective matches. Sheridan was challenged by both the Spirit and the Reign, and she managed to hold each team to only one goal. She faced 23 shots between the two games and made a total of seven saves. Her most impressive moment came towards the end of the match against the Seattle Reign. In the 80th minute, Rapinoe came charging down the field with the ball. She took her shot and Sheridan made a diving save, though the ball continued to roll slowly behind her. Jasmyne Spencer tried to finish Rapinoe’s shot, but Rebekah Stott was there to clear it. The moment earned them an NWSL Save of the Week nomination.

2. Lydia Williams Williams appeared in the weekend match for the Reign after Michelle Betos had been in the goal midweek when Seattle travelled to Houston. Williams earned herself a clean sheet against Sky Blue, making some nice saves in the first half. She faced ten shots and made four saves. The most memorable came in the 9th minute. A through ball on the left side found Carli Lloyd in the box, and Lydia Williams made a diving save to keep her shot out of goal. The ball rebounded, and Williams was ready to stop the second chance, but the ball ran past the goal and had to be chased down by Savannah McCaskill.

3. Ashlyn Harris Now, I know what you’re thinking: how can I possibly put a goalkeeper that allowed six goals in two matches as one of the top keepers of the week? Especially when the Pride’s midweek match against the North Carolina Courage was one of the worst defensive performances of the year, with Harris being responsible for two of their four goals? Those are good questions. I highlight Harris here only for her performance against Chicago, especially her one-on-ones with Sam Kerr. Even acknowledging that Kerr scored two goals, there was still some impressive work from Harris, who made two impressive stops. The first came just moments before Kerr knocked one back for Chicago’s first goal of the match, and the second came in the 47th minute, when Kerr tried to slide the ball between Harris’s legs, but Harris blocked the shot with her knee. In the second half, Kerr tried to chip Harris, but she jumped in the air and snatched the ball. And on one of Chicago’s last chances of the match, Sarah Gorden took a shot and tried to send the ball over the goalkeeper, but Harris jumped in the air and punched the ball out.

Top Three Defenders

1. Rebekah Stott— Stott had a particularly impressive performance against the Seattle Reign, where she came up big numerous times. Some of her moments that made the highlight reel include a tackle inside the 18-yard box in the 18th minute and a stop in the 86th minute, when Jasmyne Spencer came charging down the field and wanted to add to the Seattle Reign’s lead. Her best moment of the night came on that previously mentioned save in the 80th minute, when Sheridan blocked Rapinoe’s shot and Stott cleared the ball before Spencer could finish off the rebound. 

2. Meghan Klingenberg Klingenberg is a versatile player, who often has an impact on both ends of the field. In Friday night’s match, Klingenberg assisted Lindsey Horan’s goal in the 39th minute that put the Thorns up 2-0 over the Utah Royals. But it was her defensive skill just a few moments later that earned Klingenberg an NWSL Save of the Week nomination. In the 44th minute, Tymrak took a shot that was heading right towards Eckerstrom. Amy Rodriguez jumped in front of Eckerstrom and redirected the ball, and it would have gone into the net if not for a goal line save by Klingenberg. It was an important moment, not only for maintaining the clean sheet, but for allowing the Portland Thorns to carry that momentum from Lindsey Horan’s goal into halftime.

3. Becky Sauerbrunn The U.S Women’s National Team leader always manages to come up big for her squad, and she definitely had another solid defensive performance for the Utah Royals this weekend against the Portland Thorns. While her team did lose 2-0, the score easily could have been higher without some skilled moments from Sauerbrunn. In the 35th minute, Christine Sinclair took a shot for the Thorns. Abby Smith made the stop, but the ball remained in the box, and Tobin Heath tried to follow up on the rebound. She took her shot, but Sauerbrunn slid in front of her and blocked the ball, knocking it out of play. Another moment came at the start of the second half, when Sinclair tried to play the ball ahead for Ana Crnogorcevic, but Sauerbrunn intercepted the ball before Crnogorcevic could set up a shot. 

Top Three Attackers

1. Rachel Daly— Daly played the full 90 minutes in both matches for the Houston Dash this week, scoring twice and helping set up another. Against Washington, after a nice long ball found Nichelle Prince on the far side of the field, Prince ran towards the 18-yard box and set up a cross for Daly, who got in front of the defense and finished it off. Daly’s second goal came in the 78th minute, after a sloppy giveaway from the Washington Spirit found Aubrey Bledsoe way out of her net. She tried to make the stop, but she couldn’t, and Daly basically ran the ball into the net. Daly now leads the Houston Dash with four goals this season, and her talents were enough to earn her the NWSL Player of the Week. 

2. Sydney Leroux— Despite some solid attacking performances for the Pride, Leroux had failed to score for the Pride this season coming into the match against Chicago. She didn’t start the match after an illness kept her out of training this week, but she came on as a substitute for Marta in the 52nd minute. In the 60th minute, Sam Kerr snatched away the Pride lead with a goal and the match was even at 2-2. But less than a minute later, Leroux made her presence known. The Pride moved the ball forward, and Krieger sent a ball inside the box. It was in the perfect position to find Leroux, who dived for the header and knocked it past Alyssa Naeher. Only about two minutes later, Krieger came charging down the field again. She handed off the ball to Emily Van Egmond, who then slid the ball in for Morgan inside the 18-yard box. Morgan couldn’t take the shot herself, so she sent the ball across looking for Leroux. Leroux had to run back to get the ball and hold off Sarah Gorden. But Leroux got the ball, turned, and took her shot, sending the ball into the top corner of the net and giving Orlando a 4-2 lead in the course of three minutes. 

3. Jessica McDonald— McDonald had two goals for the North Carolina Courage in their 4-3 win over the Orlando Pride midweek. Her first goal opened the scoring for the Courage in the 31st minute. Up until that point, McDonald and her teammates had a couple of good chances but just couldn’t finish them. This time, the ball was sent into the box and bounced around between a couple of Courage players. It McDonald who got her foot on it finally and sent it past Harris, the perfect touch to find the back of the net. McDonald’s second goal was the final one of the night, after the Pride had come back to tie the game 3-3. In the 89th minute, Jaelene Hinkle sent the ball into the box for the Courage. McDonald got a head to it, and it first it looked like there might not be enough on it, but the Pride defense failed to keep it out of the net. It ended up being the game-winning goal for the Courage, who were happy to earn three points on the road and maintain their dominance in this league. 

Honorable Mentions: Rachel Hill and Ashley Hatch There were a ton of good offensive plays this week, and it was difficult to choose just three top attackers. I specifically put Rachel Hill and Ashley Hatch in as honorable mentions this week because they each had two goals and each played a critical role in their team’s success. Hill, who sometimes gets overlooked in the star-studded offense of the Orlando Pride, came in as a substitute in the match against North Carolina in the 75th minute. Less than ten minutes later, Marta found some space and ran down the left flank. She sent the ball into the box, and it rolled right past Alex Morgan, but Rachel Hill came in to finish it off and equalize for the Pride. While the defense were unable to maintain that score line, Hill definitely kept the momentum going for the Pride and almost had enough for them to take away points. She clearly impressed Sermanni, who put her into the starting line-up against Chicago on Saturday. Within two minutes, Hill found the back of the net, sparking the Pride offense and giving Orlando an early lead. Hatch found the lone goal for the Washington Spirit in their 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC. Andi Sullivan took a free kick outside of the box and Hatch got her head on it, sending it past Sheridan in the 64th minute and earning her team the win. While her goal wasn’t enough to beat the Houston Dash on Sunday night, Hatch found her third goal of the season towards the end of that match. She was able to capitalize off a bad giveaway by the Houston defense and slide the ball past Jane Campbell. The list of impressive attacking performances this week could go on, with solid performances by Sam Kerr, Veronica Latskos, Christine Sinclair, and others. 

Image courtesy of Corri Goates