NWSL Central Week 2 Recap

It’s a win, a loss, and a draw for the central division teams in week two as Houston tops Kansas City and Louisville draws Seattle. 

By Bekki Morgan

This week, team schedules were upended due to the Challenge Cup semifinals that took place on Wednesday. Teams that lost their semifinal certainly seemed to be at a disadvantage after the short turnaround between games. The Houston Dash shut out the Kansas City Current 2–0 on Sunday after Kansas City lost to the North Carolina Courage in their playoff match. Out west, Racing Louisville drew OL Reign 2–2 in Seattle after OL Reign lost their playoff to the Washington Spirit. 

Kansas City’s Victoria Pickett / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

The Challenge Cup itself ended on Saturday when the North Carolina Courage topped the Spirit 2–1. Because Washington played in the final, the Chicago Red Stars earned a bye week and their match against the Spirit originally scheduled for Sunday has been postponed until a later date. 

With the exception of Kansas City, who have gone winless in their last three matches across all competition, this was a better week for central division teams. Houston had lost four consecutive league matches and had gone scoreless in all of them. This is also the first time they have beaten the Current in their last three meetings. While Racing Louisville would have certainly preferred a win, they should be pleased with drawing a top team in the league while away. Even better, they did it without Emily Fox, who is unquestionably Racing’s top player. She was out with a minor leg strain and is likely to be back in the starting lineup for Louisville’s home opener next Saturday. 

Houston Dashes Past Kansas City With a 2–0 Win

39’ Rachel Daly, penalty kick (1-0 HOU) 

90’ + 5:38 Brianna Visalli, assist by Rachel Daly (2-0 HOU)

Despite the fact Kansas City were playing on short rest after Wednesday’s Challenge Cup semifinal, they dominated much of the beginning of the match. Hailie Mace had a good early chance in the 3rd minute with a nice low cross past Houston keeper Jane Campbell. Unfortunately for the Current, there were no runners in the box to collect it. In the 6th minute, a foul on Lo’eau LaBonta set up a free kick in a dangerous area, but Taylor Leach’s flick went wide. 

For much of the first half, Houston struggled to put together any form of attack at all. In the 40th minute, Houston’s Michaela Abam got tangled with Kansas City’s Elizabeth Ball and earned a penalty kick. This kick, taken by Rachel Daly, was Houston’s first shot all match. Daly converted it and put Houston on the board despite the fact that Kansas City had been outplaying them for much of the match. This penalty put new life into Houston and kicked their attack into gear. In the last 10 minutes or so of the match, they took a total of four shots to equal Kansas City’s total for the whole half. 

In the second half, Kansas City once again came out and dominated play. They came close to equalizing in the 59th minute when a shock from Kristen Hamilton was blocked and immediately followed up by LaBonta, only to be saved by Houston’s Campbell. Kansas City would dominate the half in both shots (11 with 5 on target) and possession (65.8%), but Houston would still manage to put a nail in the coffin in the last minute of stoppage time with Bri Visalli scoring off an assist from Rachel Daly.

Although Houston are undoubtedly happy to break their regular-season losing streak, this wasn’t a particularly well-played game. Kansas City outplayed them for much of the match, so they’ll need to work to control the tempo of games better and to keep their opponents from having so many chances. Kansas City, on the other hand, will certainly be very frustrated to lose their home opener in this fashion. Unlike their match against Portland last week where they were clearly outplayed, they were arguably the dominant team against Houston. To be shut out for the second consecutive regular-season game will be a hard blow for the Current to absorb. They showed that they can be a force to be reckoned with during the Challenge Cup though, and with the season so young, they still have plenty of time left to improve.

Kansas City coach Matt Potter said after the match, “Wasn’t the result we wanted obviously, but the endeavor we showed towards the end of the game to keep working, that speaks to who we want to be.” 

As a result of this win, Houston rockets up to 5th place in league standings. Kansas City remains in last place after their two consecutive shutouts.

Racing Louisville Weather OL Reign’s Storm to Earn a 2–2 Draw

23’ Jessica McDonald, assist by Cece Kizer (1-0 LOU)

33’ Tziarra King, assist by Angelina (1-1)

37’ Tziarra King (2-1 SEA)

60’ Bethany Balcer, own goal (2-2)

Both teams entered the match looking for a first win after losing their home openers. Racing started the match on the front foot with several decent chances in the first 10 minutes or so. For the first 15 minutes, Racing was the only team with any shots taken. Those shots paid off in the 22nd minute with a goal by Jessica McDonald.

Louisville’s Savannah DeMelo / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Louisville’s goal lit a fire under OL Reign and they were able to get an equalizer in the 33rd minute when Tziarra King tapped the ball past Lund. Only four minutes later, King scored again in the 37th minute. Racing failed to find an answer to Seattle’s go-ahead goal before the end of the half despite an excellent chance by Jess McDonald in the 45th that was saved by keeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce.

In the second half, OL Reign came out hot with a chance early that was saved by Lund. Seattle continued to put pressure on Racing through much of the half but Racing had a good chance in the 55th minute when Lauren Milliet put the ball just over the crossbar. In the 57th minute, OL Reign had an excellent chance when a misclear bounced around in the box before finally being stopped by Racing keeper Katie Lund. 

In the 59th minute, a set piece taken by Savannah DeMelo was bobbled by keeper Tullis-Joyce and was ultimately sent in by Seattle for an own goal and equalizer. The call was controversial, but in the replay, it bounced off the inside of the crossbar and seemed to cross the line before Seattle’s Bethany Balcer attempted to clear it.  

Balcer almost got revenge in the 65th minute when a bad clearance by Lund bounced off the pressing attacker who would have had a clear shot at goal had Lund not taken her down in front of the box. Lund earned a yellow for her efforts but Seattle’s Rose Lavelle was unable to capitalize off the resulting set piece. 

Both teams had some good chances in the waning minutes of the match, but it would end level at 2–2.

This is the first time Racing has played against a non-central division team all year as last week’s regular-season opener was against Chicago. The fact they could pull off a draw against a top team while away is a good sign for Racing who managed to press effectively throughout the game and force a good number of turnovers from Seattle. If they can work on cleaning up some defensive mistakes, they’ll at least be significantly more competitive than they were last year. 

Despite earning a point, Racing dropped to 9th place in the league standings. They’re still above OL Reign despite identical goal differentials because Seattle has earned more yellow cards this season. 

Although the Chicago Red Stars got a bye week this week, they remain in 4th place thanks to their win over Racing last week

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