NWSL Central Week 9 Preview

Team rosters have undergone major changes as international tournaments kick off in July, but that won’t stop NWSL matches from moving forward with and without key players.

By Bekki Morgan

After a two-week break, NWSL central teams will look very different when the league kicks back into action for Week 9. Every team is missing at least a couple of key players to international tournaments like CONCACAF W qualifiers, UEFA Euros, AFCON, and the OFC Women’s Nations Cup. These tournaments will determine which nations qualify for next year’s Women’s World Cup, so there’s a lot on the line. Still, that doesn’t stop the NWSL from continuing play, so this week will be fans’ first look at how each of these squads competes without major starters in their lineups. 

Notable Absences Overview

Chicago Red Stars (3) – Alyssa Naeher (Goalkeeper, USA), Bianca St-Georges (Defender, CAN), Mallory Pugh (Forward, USA)

Houston Dash (7) – Allysha Chapman (Defender, CAN), María Sánchez (Forward, MEX), Michaela Abam (Forward, Cameroon), Michelle Alozie (Forward, Nigeria), Nichelle Prince (Forward, CAN), Rachel Daly (Forward, ENG), Sophie Schmidt (Midfielder, CAN) / Replacement players signed: Haley Berg (Midfielder), Kayla Hamric (Midfielder), Machaela George (Defender), Meagan Rosa (Midfielder)

Kansas City Current (1) – Desiree Scott (Midfielder, CAN)

Racing Louisville (4) – Emily Fox (Defender, USA), Nadia Nadim (Forward, DEN), Rebecca Holloway (Defender, North Ireland), Satara Murray (Defender, Jamaica) 

A Very Altered Houston Dash Hosts the Kansas City Current

Houston Dash vs. Kansas City Current  – Friday, July 1 at 8:30 P.M. ET (Paramount +)

Of all the four teams in the NWSL central block, Houston has lost the most players for the month of July. Seven critical players, including Rachel Daly, Allysha Chapman, Nichelle Prince, and María Sánchez are all away for the foreseeable future. The good news for Houston, however, is that, in addition to the four temporary tournament players they recently signed, they’ve also added young striker phenom Ebony Salmon via a trade with Racing Louisville. Houston will be without most of their best attackers in the break so Salmon will add a strong boost of firepower to their lineup. 

Ebony Salmon / Image courtesy Houston Dash

Houston will probably need it, too, because the Kansas City Current have been on an unbeaten streak and will be a hard team to beat. Even better for the Current, they’re only losing one player for July, so their team will stay mostly intact for the break. This, of course, includes Cece Kizer, who scored the equalizer in the previous match against Chicago to keep the Current’s streak alive. Like Salmon, Kizer was recently acquired from Racing Louisville alongside defender Addisyn Merrick, so Friday’s match will be a mini-reunion of sorts, also. 

In 2022, the Current and the Dash have split matches almost evenly. Houston topped Kansas City in early May, but, in the Challenge Cup, Kansas City topped Houston twice. So it’s a toss-up as to who will have the upper hand on Friday. Houston will have the home crowd but Kansas City will have the most complete team. 

Both teams have a lot to fight for. If Houston wins, it’ll at least temporarily rocket them to second place in the standings and keep them firmly in playoff position. If Kansas City wins, it will finally bring them out of 10th place where they’ve been lingering despite putting together a strong string of recent games. While it won’t put them in playoff position, some movement up the stands is what the Current need if they’re going to ever have a shot at making the postseason.

Can The Chicago Red Stars Topple Gotham Without Mal Pugh?

NJ/NY Gotham FC vs. Chicago Red Stars  – Saturday, July 2 at 7 P.M. ET (Paramount +)

Compared to Houston, the Chicago Red Stars have only lost three players. The problem is that those three players are the most pivotal players on their squad. Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher is one of the best in the world and Mallory Pugh has been responsible for almost all of Chicago’s offensive output in the regular season. Bianca St-Georges has also played a critical role offensively and defensively and is having one of her best seasons ever. 

Without their star goalkeeper and star striker, Chicago is going to be more vulnerable on both ends. Luckily for them, Gotham will also be missing key players like Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis which may help ease the burden on their backup keeper and defender. Therefore, the biggest question Chicago faces is whether they can score without Mal Pugh. Luckily, Ava Cook will be back from the United States Under-23 tournament in Sweden by the time this match takes place so she should provide a shot in the arm for Chicago. If she and the other attackers can use this time to shine in Pugh’s absence, Chicago might have what they need to keep their seven-game unbeaten streak alive. 

Kansas City’s Cece Kizer takes on Chicago’s Vanessa DiBernardo / Image courtesy Imagn

Chicago certainly sits comfortably in second place. A win would take them past the San Diego Wave into first place and might keep them there until next week. The Wave will be missing over half of their starting lineup so they’re in a very vulnerable position this month. That means teams like Houston, Chicago, and Portland who’ve been trailing close behind might have a chance to snatch the crown away from the Wave for the first time all season.

Racing Louisville Goes to the Races (Literally) to Take on the Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Racing Louisville  – Sunday, July 3 at 8 P.M. ET (CBS Sports Network)

Racing Louisville’s next game will definitely be one to remember. This match is the Sunday headliner event for Daytona Soccer Fest being held on a temporary pitch constructed over the historic Daytona Speedway. Outside of the flash and flare of this special event, it’s still a regular-season match that Racing will need to win if they’re going to keep themselves out of the basement in the standings. 

Like all teams, Racing is missing a few players in July. Most notably, defender Emily Fox is at the CONCACAF tournament in California with the United States and striker Nadia Nadim is in the Euros in England with Denmark. These are two big losses for Racing, but they’re not insurmountable. Although Nadim has been electric since she returned from injury scoring three goals in two matches, Racing was able to win matches without her earlier this year. Emily Fox is a bigger issue considering that losing her along with fellow defenders Satara Murray and Rebecca Holloway brings Racing’s defensive pool down to a measly three players. 

Racing Louisville players celebrate a goal against Angel City in June / Image courtesy USA Today Sports Images

Viewers should expect to see Lauren Milliet move back from midfield into defense to fill in the gap. It’s also highly likely Racing will sign roster replacement players for the tournament, but these have yet to be announced. Luckily for Racing, they will have Jaelin Howell and Freja Olofsson back from late-June international friendlies in time for this match, which will help keep their starting lineup more stable. 

Racing’s opponent for SoccerFest, the Orlando Pride, currently sits in 11th place. Both the Pride and 9th place Racing have 9 points each, but the Pride’s -15 goal differential puts them in a significantly deeper well. The Pride is also facing some tumult with head coach Amanda Cromwell currently suspended pending an investigation for retaliation against players. The team also had to buy out the contract of their own player, Amy Turner, to allow her to leave the team and league which points towards additional potential unrest.

Despite these issues, the Pride isn’t a team to be discounted. This is the same team that got two goals back in the final three minutes of stoppage time against the Washington Spirit to not only avoid a shutout but earn a draw. This team has beaten Angel City and the North Carolina Courage—two teams that have already beaten Racing. They’ll also be playing what is essentially a home game in a large, nationally-televised, and internationally-streamed event, so they will want a win. So Racing will just have to want it more to earn a result. 

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