NWSL Central Week 3 Preview

In week three, Kansas City and Louisville seek their first wins while Chicago and Houston look to maintain their winning ways while on the road. 

By Bekki Morgan

With the Challenge Cup fully in the rearview mirror, central division teams will be looking to kick their regular seasons into high gear in week three. Of the four teams, both the Houston Dash and the Chicago Red Stars have already notched a win—against their fellow central division teams no less. After losing to Chicago in week one, Racing Louisville made some progress by drawing OL Reign in Seattle. The Kansas City Current will hope to find their way out of the bottom of the standings after two straight losses, including a 2–0 loss to Houston last week. 

Kansas City’s Kristen Hamilton heads the ball in front of Houston’s Sophie Schmidt / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Regaining Their Pride: Orlando vs. Kansas City

Orlando Pride vs. Kansas City Current  – Saturday, May 14 at 6:30 P.M. ET (Paramount +)

The Kansas City Current has had the roughest start of any team in the NWSL. And it’s no wonder considering they started their season against powerhouse Portland, played in the Challenge Cup semifinal a few days later against eventual champions North Carolina, and then fell to Houston their home opener only a few days after that. That’s a tight schedule against a couple of tough teams which certainly impacted their ability to play the Dash as well as they might have normally. 

After finally earning a full week’s rest, the Current head down to Florida this week to take on the Orlando Pride. This will be an interesting match between two teams that have had some fluctuating luck in 2022. The Pride was the only team in the league to remain winless through the Challenge Cup and into the new season. And yet, they somewhat surprisingly beat Angel City FC on Sunday night for their first-ever win under new coach Amanda Cromwell. Kansas City, on the other hand, was one of the most dominant teams in the Challenge Cup, losing only a single game to Racing Louisville. Once the regular season started, however, they hit a brick wall and have yet to score a single goal in either of their two games. 

With two teams that run this hot and cold, it could be anyone’s match. Orlando will be keen to continue their winning ways and hit Kansas City while they’re still down. The fact that they’re newly energized after their win will make them more challenging for the Current. Kansas City will need to take heart in the fact that they played well despite their 2–0 loss. The Current had more shots than their opponents and dominated in possession, but was unable to stay on target. If they can focus on their finishing touch, they’ll have a very solid chance of beating Orlando. 

The player to watch for the Current is keeper AD Franch. Not only is Franch one of the best keepers in the league, she’s also a true leader on the backline. When Orlando is clicking, their attacks come fast and furious and Franch will need to be ready to jump into action at any moment. If she can make some key saves and help organize the Current’s defenders to contain attacker Syd LeRoux, they might at the very least make up some of their -5 goal differential.

A Budding Rivalry Comes to Kentucky: Louisville vs. Houston

Racing Louisville vs. Houston Dash  – Saturday, May 14 at 8 P.M. ET (Twitch)

Racing Louisville is the last of the four central teams to get their home opener, and there is no doubt they will be out looking for revenge. For some reason, Racing has struggled more against the Houston Dash recently than practically any other team. They lost both matches to Houston in the Challenge Cup, and what’s worse is that both games were winnable for Racing. They dropped points in moments of inattention and disorganization and they’re certainly not happy about it. Houston, on the other hand, lost every game in the Challenge Cup except for their matches against Racing, proving that there’s just something about Houston that trips Racing up. There’s a major rivalry growing between these two teams and Saturday’s match is another opportunity to throw fuel on that ever-smoldering fire. 

Houston’s Rachel Daly versus Racing’s Shi’Nia Gordon during the Challenge Cup / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Even so, Racing will be hoping their hometown crowd will be enough to push them over the edge. Louisville has shown signs of major growth in both their regular-season matches despite earning mixed results. Their ability to press successfully and cohesively has been the biggest evolution. If they play as a unit as well as they have in their first two matches, they definitely have a good shot at earning their first win of the season. Racing will be buoyed by the likely return of Emily Fox after resting her for a minor muscle strain last week. Newly arrived Australian Alex Chidiac may make her NWSL debut for Racing in this match as well. 

Houston, on the other hand, will continue to lean hard on captain Rachel Daly. The Dash might not always win matches, but they know how to play smart. They’re incredibly good at getting calls in dangerous areas that can completely disrupt the momentum of a match. And if they manage to draw a penalty, Daly is the leading penalty taker in the league. She has a perfect record of six out of six across all competitions. One of Racing’s biggest weaknesses has been disorganization on their backline when under pressure. If Houston can poach a few bad passes and score on the transition or draw a penalty from a sloppy tackle, they might be able to take the game from Racing no matter how well Racing plays for the majority of the match. What’s more, Houston knows they can beat Louisville, and more importantly, they know they can beat them in Louisville. They’re in Racing’s head after the Challenge Cup and they will certainly try and use that to their advantage.

The player to watch for Racing Louisville is Alex Chidiac. She just finished leading the Melbourne Victory on a championship-winning run in Australia’s A-League and was given player-of-the-year awards by both her club and her teammates. Although only 22 years old, she’s been in the Australian national team player pool for seven years and attended their most recent camp this Spring. How Chidiac will fare in the NWSL is yet to be seen, however, and Louisville fans are eagerly awaiting her debut.

It’s worth noting that Racing will be playing three games in nine days, so they’ll be playing against the San Diego Wave on Wednesday night in Louisville as well. Until we see how both Racing and the Wave do in their next respective games, it’ll be hard to gauge what these teams will look like when they meet for the first time.

The player to watch for the Houston Dash is captain Rachel Daly for all the reasons described above. She scored Houston’s first goal last week after Michaela Abam drew a penalty. She then assisted Bri Visalli in the Dash’s second goal. Even with offensive threats like Abam and Nichelle Prince on the field, Daly is probably the Dash’s most dangerous player on the pitch at all times. Her performance will often determine how well Houston does, and Racing will have their hands full dealing with her. 

Chicago Heads West: San Diego vs. Chicago

Racing Louisville vs. Houston Dash  – Saturday, May 14 at 8 P.M. ET (Twitch)

For the first time in 2022, Chicago will be facing a non-central team. After not advancing in the Challenge Cup, their home opener was against Racing. They then earned a bye week last week after their originally scheduled opponents, the Washington Spirit, advanced to the Challenge Cup finals. 

As a result, Chicago is well-rested and hopefully reenergized ahead of their trip out west to play the San Diego Wave. The Wave is somewhat unexpectedly the number one team in the league after being the only team to win both of their regular-season matches. Alex Morgan has been on fire lately and became only the third player in league history to score four goals in a single game last week against NY/NJ Gotham FC. Two of those goals were penalties, so Chicago needs to be careful about not letting San Diego draw one. Luckily for Chicago, they have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Alyssa Naeher. The number one U.S. national team keeper knows Morgan well and should be able to stop her if anyone can. 

Chicago has been wracked by injuries all year but has managed to hold their own regardless. They’ll be bolstered considerably in their offense if Mal Pugh is able to return after getting a concussion during the Challenge Cup. She was close to returning in the opening week, so there’s a good chance she’ll be available. Defensively, the Red Stars have been quite solid despite losing Tierna Davidson and other starters to long-term injuries and/or pregnancy. Outside of Alex Morgan, the rest of the Wave’s offense hasn’t been particularly threatening. So if the backline stays as strong as they did against Racing when they weathered a league record-breaking number of crosses into the box, they have a good shot of serving the Wave their first loss of the regular season.

The player to watch for Chicago this week is Bianca St. Georges. In the season opener, she had the highest xG rating of any player on the pitch with 0.87 and scored the game-winner. She also led or tied her teammates in practically every offensive statistic including shots on target, shots in the box, and big chances created. With players like Kealia Watt and Morgan Gautrat out on long-term injury, St. Georges has become one of the most dynamic players on the Red Stars roster.

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