If this past weekend is any indicator of how the rest of the season will go, then the NWSL is in for an exciting two months. The week’s games were marked by upsets, surprise performances, and of course, the usual contenders.

The second installment of Welcome Back Weekend saw the return of more players from the USWNT to the NWSL. Many of them saw action on the pitch this weekend, whether as starters or substitutes. Some – such as Houston’s Carli Lloyd and FC Kansas City’s Lauren Holiday – made a quick impact upon their return to the league.

The return of the Women’s World Cup participants to the NWSL should create for an interesting dynamic for the nine teams as they continue down the stretch.

Below is a recap of the week’s action.

Saturday, July 18

Washington Spirit, 6-4-2 (20 points)

Seattle Reign, 6-3-3 (21 points)

Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex, Boyds, MD

With their 3-0 home win, the Spirit snapped one of Seattle’s streaks while continuing one of their own. The Reign, who had not lost a game since April 23, were looking to extend their undefeated streak to nine games. Washington, meanwhile, was hoping to maintain their five-game undefeated run at home.

The league leaders in goals scored, Seattle could not find the back of the net despite out-shooting the hosts 13-10. They also had trouble keeping the ball away from an aggressive Washington offense. Midfielder Amanda DeCosta got the scoring started in the 46th minute, and later goals by Christine Nairn and Crystal Dunn provided Washington with some insurance.

The Spirit, now within one point of second place, improved to 5-0-1 at home and will be riding a wave of momentum after the dominant home victory in front of a sold-out crowd at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Meanwhile, the Reign will be traveling to their next match in Portland with hopes of resuming their winning ways.

FT – Washington Spirit 3-0 Seattle Reign

Takeaways:

Washington: Crystal Dunn is an integral part of the Spirit offense, due in large part to her blazing speed and power. If an opposing defense allows her any space at all, she can easily sprint downfield to create a number of scoring opportunities for herself and the rest of the Washington offense. Her speed is a force to be reckoned with and will be difficult to stop. For that reason, Dunn is a catalyst whose performance will be integral to the Spirit’s playoff run.

Seattle: World Cup participants Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe did not play in Saturday’s match, but their return to the pitch is expected for next week. While Haley Kopmeyer has started to show signs of settling in at the goalkeeper position, she had difficulty stopping the Spirit on Saturday. The team will be looking forward to the return of their star goalkeeper and forward, both of whom are proven game-changers.

 

Chicago Red Stars, 6-1-4 (22 points)

Boston Breakers, 3-6-3 (12 points)

Village of Lisle – Benedictine University Sports Complex, Lisle, IL

A sell-out crowd at Benedictine University Sports Complex near Chicago watched the Red Stars duel the Boston Breakers for a 1-1 draw. The lone goal for the Red Stars allowed them to retain their one-point lead over Seattle for the top spot in the league table. For Boston, the one-goal tie snapped the team’s three-game losing streak and also kept them out of last place in the league.

Captain and midfielder Lori Chalupny – one of the Red Stars’ three World Cup graduands – scored Chicago’s only goal on a point-blank shot in the 53rd minute. Boston found the equalizer when forward Stephanie McCaffrey found the back of the net for her fourth goal of the season.

Chicago held off the Breakers but should have been expecting a better result than a 1-1 stalemate at home against the team that is second from the bottom of the standings. Boston, on the other hand, did well to not worsen their league-lowest goal differential of -9.

The two teams will face off again tonight, this time at Soldiers Field Stadium in Boston.

FT Chicago Red Stars 1-1 Boston Breakers

Takeaways:

-Chicago: The team’s performance on Saturday left a lot to be desired on both sides of the ball. Other than Chalupny’s goal, the Red Stars had difficulty piercing a sometimes-unstable Boston defense. Chicago will need their usual impact players to step up. These include Jennifer Hoy, Sofia Huerta, and WWC participants Chalupny and Christen Press.

– Boston: McCaffrey and midfielder Kristie Mewis did an excellent job of leading the Breakers on offense, and their ability to advance the ball shows promise for the team. A strong defensive showing led by goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is a welcome relief for Tom Durkin’s squad, whose 23 goals allowed is the most in the league.

 

Sunday, July 19

Western New York Flash, 4-5-3 (15 points)

Sky Blue FC, 2-6-5 (11 points)

Sahlen’s, Rochester, NY

WNY Flash stayed on the cusp of the league’s top four positions after a 3-3 draw against last place Sky Blue FC.

The Flash took a quick 2-0 lead after goals by Jasmyne Spencer and Jaelene Hinkle in the second and 25th minute, respectively. After a 39th minute goal by Nadia Nadim assisted by WWC player Kelley O’Hara, Western New York took a 2-1 lead into the half.

Things began to unravel for the Flash fifteen minutes into the second, when they lost their now-3-1 lead on goals by Sky Blue’s Katy Freels and Christie Rampone. The two points came within three minutes of each other, and were the result of a Flash defense that appeared to misread plays and open up large gaps. For Rampone, who was the captain of the U.S. Women’s National Team, it was only the second professional goal of her illustrious career as a center-back defender.

Rampone’s equalizer was the sixth and final goal of a high-scoring match that could have been won by either side.

FT – Western New York Flash 3-3 Sky Blue FC

Takeaways:

WNY Flash: A game that should have been won slipped through the fingers of the team’s poor defensive show. Despite holding the fifth-place spot in the league, the Flash have allowed 21 goals this season – the second-most of the nine teams. Although the offense led by Spencer, Lynn Williams, and Samantha Mewis can usually compensate for poor defense, the team will need to limit the number of goals they allow if they are to make a legitimate run for the playoffs.

Sky Blue FC: The team must be pleased with their three goals considering they have not scored more than one in any other game this season. A number of different players including Rampone and Taylor Lytle took a chance at exploiting the Flash defense and it proved to be successful. Sunday’s match must have provided at least some degree of encouragement for the team that has scored the fewest number of goals this year.

 

Monday, July 20

FC Kansas City, 5-5-3 (18 points)

Houston Dash, 3-4-5 (14 points)

Swope Soccer Village, Kansas City, MO

The second match-up of the season between Houston and Kansas City resulted in a 1-1 draw in front of a sold-out crowd of 3,557 fans at Kansas City’s Swope Soccer Village. The match saw the return of seven FIFA Women’s World Cup participants to the two teams’ starting line-ups.

Led by Lauren Holiday and Heather O’Reilly, Kansas City dominated the first half with six shots before halftime. None found the goal, however, and the game remained scoreless until just before halftime.

Houston took a 1-0 lead going into the half when World Cup MVP Carli Lloyd’s free kick in the 45th minute rolled under the the dive of goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. It was Lloyd’s second goal in the four NWSL games she played this season.

The second and final goal of the game came in the 55th minute when Houston defender Toni Pressley’s attempt to deflect O’Reilly’s cross bounced into the net for an own goal.

FC Kansas City were looking to win their third straight match after a five-game win-less streak spanning most of May and June. The Dash, meanwhile, recorded their fifth draw of the season and extended their win-less streak to six games. The two teams will meet again next Wednesday at Houston’s BBVA Compass Stadium.

FT – Houston Dash 1-1 FC Kansas City

Takeaways:

– Kansas City FC: Kansas City’s masterful maneuvering downfield kept Houston off-balance the whole match. Holiday recorded an impressive twelve corner kicks which helped set up the team’s fourteen shots throughout the match. If Kansas City can successfully finish off their dominant offensive drives, they will have no trouble winning matches through the rest of the season.

Houston: The team will gladly welcome Lloyd back into their formula, but she will need some help from her fellow forwards. Kealia Ohai, Jessica McDonald, Melissa Henderson, and Lloyd form a powerful core that can set each other up for consistent scoring opportunities. McDonald and Henderson both saw limited action in Monday’s match – they entered as substitutes late in the game.


All NWSL games can be streamed on the league’s official YouTube channel.

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