NWSL Central Week 8 Recap

NWSL central teams all earn points in neck-in-neck battles just before the start of the international break.

By Bekki Morgan

Week 8 brought the last chance NWSL teams had to earn some points before the start of June’s FIFA international break. When games resume in July, many teams will still be without a number of their starters as qualifying tournaments for the 2023 Women’s World Cup are taking place all around the world.

The Dash celebrate Elizabeth Eddy’s goal / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images and Rob Kinnan

NWSL central teams were able to go into the break having earned at least one point apiece. All three games this week were exciting neck-and-neck battles including close calls and, in some cases, weren’t decided until the last minute. 

Let’s go over all the action below: 

Racing Louisville Charges Back to Draw the Washington Spirit

34’ Trinity Rodman, assisted by Ashley Sanchez (1–0 WAS)

43’ Madison Elwell (2–0 WAS)

66’ Nadia Nadim, assisted by Jessica McDonald (2–1 WAS)

88’ Nadia Nadim, assisted by Jessica McDonald (2–2)

Initially, the match started out evenly matched. Both teams shared possession and neither could build up any major attacks. No team even had a shot prior until the 19th minute. In the 20th minute, however, Washington finally found their rhythm and began to dominate that match. Washington’s Trinity Rodman had a great chance that found the back of the net in the 22nd minute, but Emily Sonnett was ruled off-side. She eventually broke through in the 34th minute by outrunning Emily Fox on the right flank and taking a shot from a difficult angle by the far post. Less than 10 minutes later, Washington scored again. This time, Racing keeper Katie Lund made the initial save, but the ball bounced to a waiting Madison Elwell who sent it home.

Racing Louisville’s Jess McDonald (in white) takes on a Washington player / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

At the halfway point, Racing looked finished already. They were down by two and they’d only managed 2 shots with none on goal to Washington’s 13 shots with 5 on goal. Racing wasn’t done, however, and came back into the second half looking rejuvenated and hungrier than they had in the first. After having a few good chances, Racing finally got their first goal in the 66th minute when a quick series of forward passes ended with Jessica McDonald sending a through ball up to Nadia Nadim who went one-on-one with keeper Aubrey Kingsbury and sent it into the bottom right corner.

Washington would come back with several chances, but Racing would hold them off and earn the equalizer in the 88th minute. Once again, it was Jessica McDonald teaming up with Nadia Nadim for the goal. This time, Emily Fox sent a long ball to find McDonald on the left end line. Nadim was able to jump and catch McDonald’s high cross and redirect it towards the near post to bring things level. This is where the match would end.

This game was big for Racing Louisville in a number of ways. First, it stopped their three-game losing streak and allowed them to go into the break with a point. Second, this is the first time the team has come back from being down by two, which shows they can be resilient. And, third, it’s the first time a Racing player has ever scored a brace in the young team’s history. All these elements will allow Racing to head into the break with a sense of accomplishment and the idea that they can overcome tough odds against a top team like the Washington Spirit. With any luck, they’ll be able to keep this energy when they return from the break on July 3rd.

The Kansas City Current and Chicago Red Stars Battle to a Draw 

8’ Kristen Hamilton, assisted by Hailie Mace (1–0 KC)

53’ Amanda Kowalski, assisted by Mallory Pugh (1–1)

58’ Mallory Pugh, penalty (2–1 CHI)

68’ Cece Kizer, assisted by Elyse Bennett (2–2)

In another neck-and-neck battle, the Kansas City Current met the Chicago Red Stars at home and fought to another 2–2 draw. 

The Current definitely started the match hot. In the 4th minute, a header from new acquisition Cece Kizer went high and wide off a set piece situation. And only 4 minutes later in the 8th minute, Kristen Hamilton put Kansas City on the board first when a cross in from Hailie Mace was sent into the bottom right corner. Kansas City stayed on the front foot until the 20th minute when Chicago’s Ella Stevens finally forced a save. Just two minutes later, Mallory Pugh also had a shot that was blocked. 

The next 20 minutes were a regular string of fouls bringing up free kick after free kick with neither team getting any good shots. Chicago would eventually get no less than three chances during the eight remaining minutes of stoppage time, but would not be able to get on the board.

Cece Kizer celebrates her goal with Kansas City / Image courtesy Imagn

About eight minutes into the second half, Kansas City’s Kristen Edmonds conceded a corner that was taken by Chicago’s Mallory Pugh. The ball found Amanda Kowalski in the center of the box who headed it home into the bottom right corner bringing the game to 1–1. Just five minutes later in the 58th minute, the Current’s Desiree Scott fouled Mallory Pugh in the box bringing about a penalty. Pugh converted the penalty and gave Chicago the go-ahead goal. Kansas City wasn’t done, however. In the 68th minute, the Current’s Kizer took a shot from just outside the box and sent it home into the top right corner. Both sides would share several more chances, but the score would remain 2–2.

Ultimately, this was a hard-fought match for both teams that allowed them to keep their unbeaten streaks alive. Although 10th place Kansas City would have certainly liked to earn the full three points, this one point does keep them within arms reach of the playoffs and just a hair behind Racing Louisville in goal differential. With a goal and several other good plays throughout the match, Cece Kizer definitely seems to have been a good acquisition for the Current who are still suffering from the continued absence of Sam Mewis and the season-ending injury of Lynn Williams. If Kizer can continue to pair up well with the Current’s forwards, she’ll definitely add a vital attacking component to the squad.

For Chicago, they were able to stay well within the playoff cutoff with this draw and now sit in third place overall. There is one small worry, though. Once again, this match shows just how hard the team leans on Mallory Pugh to lead their entire offense. If she’s not scoring, she’s assisting. If she’s not assisting, she’s scoring. She’s been involved in almost every single goal Chicago has scored in the past four or five matches. When she’s gone for the month of July for the Concacaf tournament, will her teammates be able to step up and keep Chicago’s unbeaten streak alive?

Houston Dash Eke Out a Win against the North Carolina Courage

6’ Denise O’Sullivan (1–0 NC)

15’ María Sánchez, assisted by Shea Groom (1–1)

47’ Elizabeth Eddy (2–1 HOU)

50’ Elizabeth Eddy, assisted by María Sánchez (3–1 HOU)

51’ Nichelle Prince, assisted by María Sánchez (4–1 HOU)

57’ Diana Ordoñez, assisted by Carson Pickett (4–2 HOU)

59’ Debinha (4–3 HOU)

It looked like the Courage would be out to dominate this match early when Denise O’Sullivan scored in just the 6th minute. After last week’s 4–0 loss to the Portland Thorns that started with an early own goal, it seemed like history might be repeating itself for the Houston Dash. Luckily for them, that wasn’t the case. In the 15th minute, Shea Groom intercepted a pass in the Courage’s half and made a run for the goal. She slipped the ball to María Sánchez who sent in the shot to the left side of the goal to bring Houston even. Both teams would have numerous chances for the rest of the half but nothing would break the 1–1 tie. But that would all change in the second half.

Just two minutes into the second half, a free-kick by Houston into the crowded penalty box ricocheted around until it fell to the feet of Elizabeth Eddy who sent it home from close distance. Eddy would have another one just three minutes later when Sánchez saw her making a run down the left flank. A beautiful chipped ball from Eddy sailed past the hands of keeper Casey Murphy to add to Houston’s total. Houston’s momentum proved to be too much for the Courage when Houston’s counterattack earned them the ball back and saw Sánchez sending the ball to teammate Nichelle Prince. Prince was able to dodge around the Courage’s attackers and curl one past Murphy just one minute after Eddy’s most recent goal.

The Courage wasn’t done yet, however. In the 57th minute, Carson Pickett sent a long ball in from downfield to find Diana Ordoñez whose excellent first touch settled the ball enough for her to send it in between Houston keeper Jane Campbell’s legs to bring the match to 4–2. The Courage’s rally continued just a few minutes later when Debinha danced around Houston’s defenders to sneak a ball past Campbell and put the Courage within one. Despite a real push by North Carolina, Houston was able to hold them off and end the game 4–3.

There was no question this was going to be a hard-fought match from the start. North Carolina is still desperate to pull themselves out of the bottom of the standings while Houston was out to prove that their huge loss the previous week was a fluke. While Houston did prove that they can score goals even without captain Rachel Daly present, they still need to work on shoring up their defenses. They’ve let in seven goals in the past two matches which is a worrying statistic. 

The good news is that a number of different players continue to get them on the board. Sánchez was a huge contributor with her two assists. Elizabeth Eddy earning a brace was also huge for the team. And, of course, Nichelle Prince continued to prove herself a threat earning her fifth goal of the season. If they can continue to score a lot of goals, they may be able to counterbalance the goals they’re giving up. But if they have a cold match, as they did against Portland last week, then they could easily find themselves deep in the hole. And with goal differential likely to make or break several teams’ chances at making the playoffs, that’s something they should be concerned about.

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