NWSL West Week 8 Recap

Angel City lost on the road to OL in a highly physical match Saturday night while Portland and San Diego both won in high-scoring matches. 

By Taylor Vincent

It was an exciting week 8 of NWSL play as the FIFA international break approaches on the 20th. OL faced Angel City back home in Seattle and walked away with a win as ACFC recovered from their game-heavy week 7 and the loss of Christen Press to an ACL injury. Portland put on a show in Providence Park and finished with a 6–0 win over Orlando. To wrap it up, San Diego traveled cross-country to Gotham FC and won an important three points in their 3–0 win. 

As week 8 finished, San Diego remained atop the leaderboard with 18 points and a game in hand compared to the other top six right now. Portland sits happily in second with 16 points and having not lost a match in the last five games. OL is still moving upwards, now in fifth place overall with 13 points. Angel City also has 13 points but fell to sixth due to the goal differential. 

OL squeaks out a win against an injury-ravaged Angel City

31’ Bethany Balcer (1–0 OL)

The highly physical match quickly got out of hand and once again turned into a conversation about the quality of refereeing at this level. The referee lost control of the match pretty early on and was never able to get it back to a safe level. In the end, 29 fouls and 8 yellow cards were awarded in the game and this number would have been higher had the fouls started being called earlier. Angel City head coach Freya Coombe said in the post-game conference, “I don’t think I’m allowed to say why it was difficult without repercussions.” The NWSL has been fairly stringent in giving fines away to coaches and players for critiquing the acceptable level of refereeing at this level, but one can only hope that the league has plans for addressing it in the near future.

Jess Fishlock dribbles toward the goal / Courtesy of Taylor Vincent

The Angel City defense seemed to struggle in the first half to find their footing, but goalkeeper DiDi Haracic kept them in the match, making some incredible saves and clearances. In the 31st minute, an Angelina cross clearance by Ali Riley flew right to the feet of Bethany Balcer and she was able to easily put it in the net to put OL up. The Reign ended the half with 10 shots, 4 on goal, and 25 touches in the ACFC box. Angel City only had 3 shots, 1 on goal, and a single touch in the Reign box. 

In the second half, Angel City made some great adjustments and were able to make the match a battle of possession in the midfield instead of constantly trying to defend a barrage of Reign attacks. Both teams had an additional 3 shots in the second half, with 2 of Angel City’s on frame, and all 3 of the Reign’s on frame. Other than the shots, the big striking difference in the second half was the only 6 touches in the Angel City box for OL, and the 11 for Angel City in the OL box.

Megan Rapinoe did get a second yellow on the bench after ACFC’s Paige Nielsen had a late tackle on Bethany Balcer, who went off the pitch clearly in a lot of pain. She’ll have to sit out a match after she returns from international duty in July. Reign head coach Laura Harvey said after the match, “I thought it was a consistent theme throughout the game that both benches, both sets of players were concerned about the safety of their teammates.”

Cari Roccaro pushes the ball upfield / Courtesy of Taylor Vincent

It should also be noted that Arsenal midfielder Kim Little was expected to make her OL debut on Saturday night but is still not in market due to visa issues. Additionally, this week the Reign announced the signing of USWNT forward Tobin Heath (expected to join the team the week of 6/20), and CANWNT forward Jordyn Huitema (expected to join the team after Concacaf World Cup Qualifiers). 

Portland dominates Orlando

21’ Hina Sugita, Assist Janine Beckie (1–0 POR)

25’ Becky Sauerbrunn (2–0 POR)

63’ Sophia Smith, Assist Becky Sauerbrunn (3–0 POR)

79’ Natalia Kuikka, Assist Olivia Moultrie (4–0 POR)

86’ Sophia Smith, Assist Yazmeen Ryan (5–0 POR)

90+1’ Taylor Porter, Assist Yazmeen Ryan (6–0 POR)

Everything seemed to go well for Portland this weekend if the 6–0 scoreline wasn’t enough of a hint. Things started off strong as Portland scored two goals quickly in the first half. In the 21st minute, Janine Beckie intercepted an errant Orlando pass outside of the box and sent a beautiful cross into the box where Hina Sugita was able to redirect the ball off a volley to score the opening goal. Just minutes later, Sam Coffey took a free kick about 5 yards outside of the box and Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod made the initial save on the low near post. Unfortunately for the Pride, Becky Sauerbrunn was right there to jump on the deflection and although McLeod had denied her on a corner kick header earlier in the match, she would not be denied now as she kicked the ball into the net. The Thorns finished the half with 10 shots, 5 on target, and 17 touches in the Pride box. Orlando only had 2 shots, 1 on target, and 7 touches in the Thorns box. 

Bella Bixby makes a diving save / Courtesy of Taylor Vincent

The second half was when things really started clicking for the Thorns. In the 63rd minute, Sauerbrunn was given room to advance through the middle of the pitch before handing the ball off to Sophia Smith. The Orlando defense didn’t close down on Smith and she punished them for it with a gorgeous right-footed shot into the lower-left corner of the goal. Around the 80th minute, the Thorns were possessing the ball around the edges of the Orlando box and found an opening when Sophia Smith passed the ball to Olivia Moultrie near the top of the box. The pass opened up some space in the middle of the box and Moultrie was able to slide the ball in toward a wide-open Natalia Kuikka. Kuikka took one touch and drilled the ball toward the far post at close range. 

The barrage of attacks continued and found netting once again in the 86th minute. Yazmeen Ryan was able to find Sophia Smith with room to run outside of the box and she cracked off a left-footed shot into the upper left 90 before the defense had time to put pressure on her. Even up 5–0, the Thorns were not done yet. In stoppage time, they were awarded a free kick roughly 10 yards outside of the box. Yazmeen Ryan sent a low ball to an unmarked Taylor Porter. Porter took two touches and sent the ball toward the near post to score her first NWSL goal. Portland finished the match with 26 shots, 12 on goal, and 50 final third entries. Orlando ended with only 6 shots, 3 on goal, but 52 final third entries. 

San Diego stays atop the table

19’ Alex Morgan, Assist Taylor Kornieck (1–0 SDFC)

43’ Alex Morgan, Assist Sofia Jakobsson (2–0 SDFC)

68’ Makenzy Doniak, Assist Alex Morgan (3–0 SDFC) 

San Diego started the scoring off early when in the 19th minute, San Diego’s Taylor Kornieck stripped Taryn Torres of the ball just outside of the Gotham box. Alex Morgan quickly started a run in the box and Kornieck’s pass had the perfect pace for Morgan to just shoot her first touch through the legs of Gotham goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Just two minutes later, it looked like Gotham might equalize when Paige Monaghan intercepted an errant pass from Christen Westphal and found herself one-on-one with Wave goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, but luckily for the Wave, her shot went high. In the 43rd minute, the Wave doubled their lead when Kornieck passed the ball wide to Sofia Jakobsson, who delivered a cross toward the near post where Alex Morgan was making her run. Morgan was able to get the right redirect off the ball to get it past Harris. In the first half, San Diego had 5 shots, 3 on goal, and 28 final third entries. Gotham concluded with 7 shots, 2 on goal, and 36 final third entries. 

Makenzy Doniak controls the ball under pressure / Courtesy of Ashley Intile

In the 68th minute, the Wave found themselves on the attack after winning the second ball of a Gotham goal kick. Makenzy Doniak dribbled toward the box, then laid it off for Alex Morgan to drive into the box. Morgan lost her defender and when another slid over to apply pressure, a giant passing lane opened up which Doniak continued her run into. Morgan passed the ball back to Doniak, who didn’t need an extra touch to drill the ball into the back of the net. When the final whistle blew, San Diego had 12 shots, 7 on goal, 64 final third entries, and 1.35 expected goals. Gotham finished the game with 13 shots, 3 on goal, 66 final third entries, and 1.29 expected goals. 

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