NWSL Central Week 7 Recap

Streaks are broken while others are maintained in this week of NWSL central action.

By Bekki Morgan

Streaks were broken and others continued this week among the NWSL central teams, and feelings among the teams definitely cover the spectrum.  On the good side, the Red Stars stretched their unbeaten streak to six games and Kansas City is now unbeaten in three matches. On the bad side, Racing Louisville lost their third straight match and Houston broke their team-best streak of seven games in a tough loss to the Portland Thorns. 

Racing’s Gemma Bonner celebrates her goal / Image courtesy Aaron Doster USA Today Sports Images

Let’s take a look and see what went down in Week 7:

The Houston Dash End Up Even in Los Angeles

Despite plenty of chances, neither the Houston Dash nor Angel City could break through and score a goal on Tuesday night. Houston got going right out of the gate earning two corners in the first ten minutes, although both resulting shots were missed. After the first 15 minutes, Angel City began getting involved more and got a couple of shots off themselves. Ultimately, the half would be an evenly matched back-and-forth between both sides with neither gaining the upper hand. Possession stayed almost entirely even between the two for the first 45 and both teams struggled to get any shots on target.

In the second half, Angel City adjusted and became the more dangerous team. They held possession more and were able to get more shots on target. The moment of the night for Houston came in the 69th minute when keeper Jane Campbell pulled off a fantastic double save. A rocket from Jun Endo was initially blocked by Campbell but fell to the feet of Christen Press. While Campbell was still standing up, she managed to block Press’ excellent shot and keep the board level. Houston was able to muster up a couple of chances later in the second half—including a shot off the woodwork from Shea Groom in the 80th minute—the match would end nil-nil.

With this draw, Houston has entered their longest unbeaten streak with six matches. A nil-nil draw after an utterly dominant performance this past weekend might seem like a letdown, but the fact they were able to fend off Angel City’s barrage in the second half is a testament to how well they can pull together as a team. They should also be heartened that they were able to get a result with captain Rachel Daly now gone to join the English national team for the UEFA Euros. Daly is a driving force on the team, so time will tell what impact her loss will have on the Dash.

Chicago Red Stars Hold the Spirit to Another Draw

It was another scoreless draw in Illinois as the Chicago Red Stars held the Washington Spirit to a nil-nil result. This match was another tale of two halves with Chicago getting the upper hand in the first half and the Spirit coming alive in the second. 

Chicago’s Sarah Luebbert started out hot with a right-footed shot from the right side of the box that was saved by keeper Aubrey Kingsbury in the 10th minute. Just five minutes later Luebbert sent another ball in that sailed just over the crossbar. The Red Stars’ best chance of the half came in the 35th minute off a set piece taken by Mallory Pugh from the far right side of the box. Her cross found the head of Rachel Hill, but Hill’s shot hit the post. The half would end even with Chicago managing 6 shots with 3 on target and the Spirit getting off only 2 shots with none on frame.

Chicago’s Alyssa Naeher punches the ball away from Washington’s Emily Sonnett / Image courtesy Imagn

In the second half, the Spirit made two big substitutions in Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman. These additions immediately changed the offensive direction of the game and put the Spirit on the front foot. Three minutes into the half, Rodman drove into the penalty area and took a right-footed shot from a tight angle that rifled off the post. In the 49th minute, Chicago keeper Alyssa Naeher made an excellent diving save to block a low header from Ashley Hatch and Red Stars defenders were able to clear the ball before Washington could have another chance. The Spirit would stay fully on the front foot all half and force Naeher to make three big saves to keep the scoreline even. Despite a barrage of 11 shots in the second half alone, Chicago would come out with a point from the nil-nil draw.

Like Houston, Chicago has also managed to keep an unbeaten streak going for five matches. They’re proving to be a hard team to break down, especially with Alyssa Naeher performing so excellently in goal. This is especially impressive considering the Red Stars will have played five games in just two weeks by the time this weekend is through. The fact that Chicago has been able to rely so heavily on their bench while dealing with major injuries shows that they have a real chance at sustaining this momentum as the season moves on.

A Late Racing Louisville Error Lets Angel City Fly High

29’ Gemma Bonner, assisted by Savannah DeMelo (1–0 LOU)

36’ Christen Press, assisted by Megan Reid (1-1)

47’ Savannah McCaskill, assisted by Christen Press (2–1 LA)

65’ Nadia Nadim, penalty (2–2)

90’+3’ Savannah McCaskill (3-2 LA)

When Racing Louisville hosted Angel City on Saturday night, both teams found what they’d been looking for the past few matches: goals. The scoring started in the 29th minute off a Racing set piece from just outside the box. Savannah DeMelo sent a low cross into the center of the box and Gemma Bonner back-heeled it past keeper Didi Haricic in an absolutely brilliant finish. Angel City would answer quickly, however. Unable to break through Racing’s midfield, Megan Reid finally sent a long ball over that found Christen Press who put Angel City on the board to tie it up in the 36th minute.

The score would remain through the rest of the first half, but Angel City would come roaring in after half-time. Only two minutes in, Savannah McCaskill found the back of the net off an assist from Christen Press and put the visitors ahead. In the 63rd minute, Savannah DeMelo was taken down by Reid inside the top of the box earning a penalty. Nadia Nadim stepped up and converted it bringing the score level once again. Both teams failed to find a go-ahead goal until Angel City’s Simone Charley charged into the box while Julia Lester struggled to contain her. Keeper Katie Lund went in for the tackle but took Charley out instead of the ball giving Angel City a penalty in the 3rd minute of stoppage time. McCaskill stepped up to take it and froze Lund in her tracks giving Angel City the winning goal.

Ultimately, this was a fast and exciting match that was unfortunately marred by Angel City star Christen Press suffering a leg injury that caused her to be removed from the match. Although Racing lost, they played significantly better than they had in their past two shutouts. They still have some issues with finishing to work out because too many good chances went by without goals, but they still seem to be getting back on track in terms of building chemistry. Racing ultimately held the majority of possession with 53% and had more shots, but their accuracy wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be. If they can continue to fine-tune their attack, they’ll likely be back to earning points soon.

The Kansas City Current Squeeze Past Gotham

84’ Kristen Hamilton, assisted by Isabel Rodriguez (1–0 KCC)

Chances abounded early for both sides, but it was only a late goal that ultimately gave the Kansas City Current the win over visiting NJ/NY Gotham FC. Gotham got a few chances early, but the Current’s best chance of the first half came in the 13th minute when Hailie Mace cut in from the left side to send a curler in towards the far post. Unfortunately for Kansas City, Gotham keeper Michelle Betos was able to drop low and grab it before it found the back of the net. 

Kansas City’s Kristen Hamilton celebrates her goal / Image courtesy IMAGN

In the second half, the Current came out strong and forced Betos into two key saves to keep the score level at nil-nil. First, in the 64th minute, Desiree Scott had a good look on goal with a right-footed shot, and then moments later the ball fell to the feet of Elyse Bennett but she couldn’t beat Betos 1-v-1. The Current finally got their breakthrough in the 84th minute when Isabel Rodriguez ran the ball down the left side of the pitch and into the final third. She spotted Kristen Hamilton open out at the top of the box and Hamilton was able to shoot through traffic to put it past Betos. 

This win extends the Current’s unbeaten streak to three games. They’ve also won two out of the last three, which shows that they’re well on their way to shaking off their early-season jitters. Gotham can be a tough team to keep down with attackers like Kristie Mewis and Midge Purce on the pitch, but Kansas City did a good job of shutting down their chances. Kansas City led in almost all stats, including xG, possession, shots, shots on target, big chances, and passing accuracy—a truly strong performance.

Chicago Red Stars Beat Orlando To Keep Streak Alive

10’ Mallory Pugh, assisted by Bianca St. Georges (1–0 CHI)

An early goal is all it took for the Chicago Red Stars to slip past the Orlando Pride and keep their unbeaten streak alive. In the 10th minute, Bianca St. Georges forced a turnover which she immediately passed to Mallory Pugh who was hanging back midway in Orlando’s half. Pugh rushed forward and took a rocket of a shot from just outside the top of the box that keeper Erin McLeod had no chance of stopping. Moments later Vanessa DiBernardo almost gave them another when her shot from a similar spot ricocheted off the crossbar just a minute later. Orlando finally put together a good chance in the 35’, but Abi Kim’s shot went wide of the far post. The half would end with Chicago up by one.

The Red Stars again looked strong in the second half. In the 63rd minute, Pugh sent a ball in across goal that found Tatum Milazzo lurking by the near post. Milazzo couldn’t quite get under it and fell backward sending the ball back across goal where it could be cleared by Orlando. Each team got a few more shots off—including another great shot from Pugh that deflected off a Pride defender—but no more goals would be scored. The game would end 1–0 in Chicago’s favor.

Chicago continues their hot streak of games during a tight schedule. In their five games in two weeks, the Red Stars have gone unbeaten and it doesn’t look like very much could stop them at this point. Their only issue is they’re still not finishing a huge number of goals. Their wins and draws have been low-scoring and they are relying very heavily on Mallory Pugh to get them on the board. When Pugh is inevitably gone for World Cup Qualifying, will the Red Stars be able to keep their streak going? 

The Houston Dash Have Problems Against the Portland Thorns

1’ Katie Naughton, own goal (1–0 POR)

23’ Sophia Smith, penalty (2–0 POR)

74’ Olivia Moultrie, assisted by Sophia Smith (3–0 POR)

82’ Sophia Smith, assisted by Olivia Moultrie (4–0 POR)

The last time the Houston Dash met Portland, the Thorns underestimated what Houston could do. They rested most of their starters and paid the price in a 2–0 loss. This time, they didn’t make such a mistake, and as a result, Houston’s winning streak was snapped. 

Problems for Houston began early when the Portland Thorns caused an own goal in the very first minute. The Thorns sent a cross in during their first charge, but instead of connecting with Sophia Smith, it found Katie Naughton who miscleared it and sent it into the back of the net. In the 7th minute, Houston’s Emily Ogle found some momentum and took a shot that hit woodwork only to collect it and send it back in, but unfortunately, off-target. Keeper Jane Campbell came up big in the 19th minute when a set piece led to a dangerous bouncing ball off the foot of Rocky Rodriguez from the left side of the box, but Campbell was able to fall on it and snuff out the threat. Unfortunately for Houston, they wouldn’t be so lucky in the 23rd minute when they gave up a penalty that Sophia Smith converted to put Houston up by 2. 

This is the way it would remain until the second half which opened with the Thorns once again on the front foot. Houston would hold them off for almost a half-hour before another mistake by Naughton would give the Thorns their third. Naughton’s pass out of the back was sent right to the feet of a lurking Sophia Smith who ran to the end line and crossed it to Olivia Moultrie who put it away. Moultrie returned the favor less than 10 minutes later when her initial shot was blocked but fell back to her feet. She then passed it to Smith lingering by the far post and Smith’s shot from a hard angle slipped past Campbell and found the back of the net. This would be the last goal and the game would end 4–0 Portland.

After flying so high on a six-game unbeaten streak, this has to be a real crash back to earth for the Dash. Most frustrating is that at least two goals were caused by their own player’s errors. The immediate own goal rattled the team and they didn’t have a chance to settle and get one back. It’ll be interesting to see if Houston can rally over their next few games and win back some of the spark they had these past six games. Still, after such strong performances, it’s likely this is just an unpleasant bump for the Dash.

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