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Chaos continues as Spirit go third, Pride fall further back, Thorns and Reign draw – Equalizer Soccer

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Photo Copyright Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

The National Women’s Soccer League‘s playoff picture remains a mess, and it presented a few more twists through Wednesday’s four matches. Here’s what happened:

Portland Thorns 1, OL Reign 1

The Skinny: Portland got things started in the third minute with Morgan Weaver scoring her first NWSL regular-season goal. The Reign seemed caught off guard, the defense was a mess and Weaver took advantage with a smart near-post finish.

OL Reign made several changes, bringing in Angelina, Dani Weatherholt, Megan Rapinoe, and Ally Watt. The subs brought good energy but still struggled as dumb giveaways in bad spots continued to kill any momentum they had. But with five minutes left, they earned a handball call in the box, and a penalty kick. Rapinoe stepped up and sent Bella Bixby the wrong way for the equalizer. The game got chippy as both sides pushed for a winner, but with neither side able to find the back of the net, the points were shared.

One Key Moment: Once Rapinoe steps up to the penalty spot, you know she is going to convert. The handball call is essentially the only reason OL Reign tied this match. For Portland, that means they have not yet clinched a top two seed. And with only one point still separating the teams, it leaves the shield still up for grabs.

Inside the Game: This was neither team’s best performance. OL Reign got saved by the soft PK call after struggling to play their game the entire match. Meanwhile, Portland had several chances that could’ve put the game away that they failed to convert, leaving it open for the Reign to comeback. 

The Goals:

  1. Portland Thorns — Morgan Weaver, 3’
  2. OL Reign — Megan Rapinoe (PK), 86’

— Bella Munson

North Carolina Courage 1, Washington Spirit 2

The Skinny: Washington moved into third place and continued a season-long advantage over the Courage. Julia Roddar scored the game-winning goal in the 70th minute, knocking in a rebound from a corner kick 10 minutes after Meredith Speck had equalized for the Courage.

One Key Moment: Just watch the bottom of the screen as Speck hustles to get to the back post for North Carolina’s goal.

Inside The Game: Aubrey Bledsoe made six saves on the night and was vital to the Spirit securing all three points. She has been spectacular throughout the season, and she was again on Wednesday.

North Carolina played vertically with little success throughout the first half. That improved in the second half — especially evident in North Carolina’s goal — and interim head coach Sean Nahas felt it was the team’s best performance in the three games he has been in charge. Still, it wasn’t good enough, and it leaves the Courage in the unfamiliar and precarious position of being just inside the playoff line.

The Goals:

  1. Washington Spirit — Trinity Rodman, 39′
  2. North Carolina Courage — Meredith Speck, 60′
  3. Washington Spirit — Julia Roddar, 70′

— Jeff Kassouf

Chicago Red Stars 1, Orlando Pride 0

The Skinny: Orlando’s playoff hopes took a serious hit with this loss. The Pride are 4 points out of the sixth and final spot, with only two games left to play, and NJ/NY Gotham — which sits ahead of Orlando, in seventh place — has two games in hand.

Kealia Watt scored the games only goal, smashing a shot just under the crossbar in the 6th minute off a corner kick from Mallory Pugh.

One Key Moment: Watt’s goal was the winner, but this game was filled with no-calls and a questionable penalty-kick decision in favor of Orlando. Alex Morgan took the kick from the spot and pushed the ball wide to her left, a significant missed opportunity for the Pride to go into halftime tied and with some momentum.

Inside the Game: The Red Stars were twice denied potential penalties, including shortly before the one awarded to Orlando. Watt went down in the box on a tackle from Amy Turner, but didn’t get the call. Orlando intentionally played direct at the outset, interim head coach Becky Burleigh revealed postgame, but the final product was disjointed and cost the Pride.

With the win, Chicago joined Houston and North Carolina on 32 points.

The Goals:

  1. Chicago Red Stars — Kealia Watt, 6′

— Jeff Kassouf

Kansas City 3, Houston Dash 0

The Skinny: Kansas City picked up its biggest win of the season and took a chunk of the Dash’s playoff spirit with them. Houston still sits in fourth, but the loss is a brutal one in the stretch run of the regular season.

Darian Jenkins scored a stunner and Elizabeth Ball and Lo’eau LaBonta (PK) goals for Kansas City. Kiki Pickett and LaBonta nearly had their own highlight-reel, slamming shots off the crossbar in successive minutes.

One Key Moment: Jenkins’ goal was a beauty, plain and simple.

Inside The Game: Kansas City owned the midfield battle against the Dash, who conceded far too much space in front of their back four throughout the match. Kiki Pickett’s near golazo was a microcosm of that issue. She made a run right up the middle of the field, mostly uncontested, for some 60 yards.

The Goals:

  1. Kansas City — Darian Jenkins, 18′
  2. Kansas City — Elizabeth Ball (Katie Bowen), 36′
  3. Lo’eau LaBonta (PK), 90+2′

— Jeff Kassouf





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Gotham move into playoff position over Courage – Equalizer Soccer

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Photo copyright Rachael Kriger for The Equalizer

Two games today round out a packed weekend of National Women’s Soccer League action. With Orlando already eliminated, five teams are vying for four spots in the playoffs, and three of them played today. With their win over the Courage, Gotham move above the playoff line while the Courage are now on the verge of elimination pending the result of tonight’s second game. Here’s what happened in today’s matches

North Carolina Courage 0, NJ/NY Gotham FC 3

The Skinny: The first half of this match was fairly even, going into the break still scoreless. But that result was thanks in large part to big saves from Casey Murphy keeping North Carolina in it.

Gotham came out firing in the second half and found the breakthrough when Margaret Purce pounced on a bouncing ball in the box that the defense failed to clear. 

Ten minutes later, Purce got her second, poking home a saved shot from Ifeoma Onumonu. Just three minutes later Carli Lloyd would add another from long distance, doing well to turn and create space outside the box, finishing near post.

Once the Courage were already down three goals they started to really test Gotham, but Kailen Sheridan was a rock in net to preserve her shutout. This result moves Gotham into fifth place, in good position to qualify with three games in hand, compared to other teams one. North Carolina are now just outside of the playoff picture.

One Key Moment: The partnership between Onumonu and Purce has been great for Gotham. The individual work from Onumonu to dribble into her defender, then cut it back for a good shot was great, while Purce sprinted down the field to get open for her teammate, she didn’t get the ball but she was perfectly placed to take advantage.

Inside the Game: The fact that the Courage players are even playing right now, given all they have gone through, is miraculous, but the toll shows in their performance. Once they conceded it looked very unlikely they could comeback, with their play appearing sloppy and tired. Casey Murphy was huge and pulled off some great saves, but their questionable defense continues to be taken advantage of to the point where Murphy can’t do anything. Meanwhile, Gotham has found some consistency and strength in their backline, flowing into their offense, creating a solid full team performance.

The Goals:

  1. NJ/NY Gotham FC — Margaret Purce, 54’
  2. NJ/NY Gotham FC — Margaret Purce, 64’
  3. NJ/NY Gotham FC — Carli Lloyd (Estelle Johnson), 67’





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Pride eliminated; Red Stars bolster playoff case – Equalizer Soccer

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Photo Copyright Rachael Kriger for The Equalizer

Five teams are now vying for the final four playoff spots in the National Women’s Soccer League following the Orlando Pride’s loss to Racing Louisville on Saturday. The Chicago Red Stars’ 2-1 win over Kansas City gave them much-needed three points in their playoff push. Here’s what happened in the league’s three Saturday night matches:

Racing Louisville FC 3, Orlando Pride 1

The Skinny: Orlando’s 3-1 loss to Racing Louisville eliminated the Pride from playoff contention, a drastic fall for a team which started the season unbeaten in nine games and atop the NWSL table. Jodie Taylor scored three minutes into the match to give Orlando the lead, and she was lucky not to be sent off 13 minutes later for a horrendous, two-footed challenge on Yuki Nagasato (Taylor was shown a yellow card).

Ebony Salmon scored a spectacular goal on the final kick of the first half to send the teams to the break even, and Katie McClure gave the home side the lead seven minutes after halftime. Salmon was involved in that goal, too, brilliantly back-heeling the ball to put McClure in behind Pride defender Amy Turner. Nagasato iced the game with a goal in the 77th minute, finishing a cross from Salmon.

The loss was the fourth straight for Orlando, who has dropped every game since returning from the September international break. Louisville snapped a nine-game winless streak stretching over two months, including losses in their last four.

One Key Moment: Salmon’s goal changed the entire tone of the match. The Pride had a decent run of play in the first half and nearly added a second goal through Alex Morgan shortly after Taylor’s goal. Louisville’s equalizer changed the dynamics of the game.

Inside The Game: Salmon was a workhorse for racing, snapping a scoreless streak of her own to be a focal point in delivering a much-needed win for Racing. The two goals she set up were as important in that effort as her spectacular goal. Nagasato’s influence on the game was clear in her return to the starting XI, and Cece Kizer had another understated but solid game to create play in the pocket in front of Orlando’s back line.

The Pride once again have many questions to answer in an offseason preceded by disappointment. Salmon’s equalizer demanded that Orlando come out with a response in the second half, and with their backs against the wall against an opponent already eliminated from the playoffs, the Pride folded; they had no answer. McClure’s go-ahead goal early in the second half meant that the frustration simmered, and it was palpable over the final 13 minutes, with the score 3-1 in favor of Louisville and playoff hopes realistically gone.

The Goals:

  1. Orlando Pride – Jodie Taylor (Alex Morgan), 3’
  2. Racing Louisville FC – Ebony Salmon (Yuki Nagasato), 45+1’
  3. Racing Louisville FC – Katie McClure, 52’
  4. Racing Louisville FC – Yuki Nagasato (Ebony Salmon), 77’

— Jeff Kassouf

Chicago Red Stars 2, Kansas City 1

The Skinny: Chicago jumped on Kansas City out of the game, hitting the post three times in the first 24 minutes and before scoring the opener in the 34th minute. Tierna Davidson headed Mallory Pugh’s corner-kick service back toward goal and the ball redirected off Kristen Edmonds for the own goal.

Hailie Mace answered for Kansas City three minutes later, heading in Katie Bowen’s cross off a short corner kick. Makenzy Doniak scored the game-winner five minutes into the second half, tapping in a cross from Kealia Watt to finish off a brilliant team goal which started from Chicago’s goal kick. Pugh appeared to be offside in the buildup but it was not called, seemingly because possession had changed, in the opinion of the referee.

The victory puts Chicago on 35 points, meaning the Red Stars will be in contention to host a first-round playoff game heading into the final weekend of the regular season, no matter how Sunday’s results play out.

One Key Moment: Watch this Red Stars winner over and over and over.

Inside the Game: The Red Stars jumped on Kansas City in the midfield, with Katie Johnson proving particularly dangerous in the No. 10 role. Johnson attempted two of those three shots which hit the post in the opening 24 minutes and caused fits for Kansas City’s back line. Mallory Pugh was active again, even if she didn’t appear on the scoring summary.

The Goals:

  1. Chicago Red Stars (Kristen Edmonds own goal), 34′
  2. Kansas City — Hailie Mace (Katie Bowen), 37′
  3. Chicago Red Stars — Makenzy Doniak (Kealia Watt), 50′

— Jeff Kassouf





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Arsenal’s evolution under Jonas Eidevall – Equalizer Soccer

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Photo: Natalie Mincher/Sports Press Photo.

Jonas Eidevall couldn’t have asked for a better start to his Arsenal career. Hired to replace the departing Joe Montemurro as manager in June, his time in the FA Women’s Super League began with a 3-2 home victory over reigning champions Chelsea. That was followed up by a resounding 4-0 win away to Reading, a 5-0 thrashing of Manchester City, and 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Aston Villa and Everton.

Context, as always, is crucial. Arsenal enjoyed a slight head start to their season, playing three Champions League games prior to the FA WSL opening round. By contrast, Chelsea are still in the development stages of a new three-back system, and Manchester City are suffering from a lack of pre-season games and an injury list that gets longer with each passing week.

Nonetheless, five wins from five, including two over their title rivals, is a mightily impressive way for Arsenal to begin their campaign. Last season, they took just one point from four games against Chelsea and City. This time around, they already have six points from these fixtures. The change in results is drastic, but tactically it appears more a case of evolution, not revolution.

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