NWSL West Week 12 Recap

It was nothing less than chaos this weekend as Portland and San Diego gritted out wins on the road while OL came back for the win against Angel City in a Saturday night thriller.

By Taylor Vincent

The NWSL is back and had some exciting action to kick off the second half of the season after the 7-day mandated break. There were red cards, penalties made, penalties saved, and just a flurry of ridiculous goals happening. Portland started things out with a 2–1 win against Racing Louisville on the road, moving their lossless streak up to nine games; the last time they lost was May 21st against Houston. San Diego walked away with a 1–0 win against Chicago in a match head coach Casey Stoney left saying, “I don’t know how we won, but we won.” OL Reign came back from a two-goal deficit to win 3–2 against Angel City in front of a sold out 22,000 fan crowd at the Banc in what might’ve been the most exciting match of the regular season to date. 

San Diego kept its place atop the table with 25 points and a game in hand, while Portland stayed at second only one point behind. With the win against Angel City, OL moved up from sixth to fourth at 20 points, winning the tiebreaker for fourth to Chicago on goals against since their goal differential match. Angel City dropped out of the playoff positions to seventh last week with the postponed match and stayed there with the loss. 

OL comes back from a two-goal deficit to defeat Angel City

9’ Cari Roccaro (1–0 ACFC)

28’ Savannah McCaskill, penalty (2–0 ACFC)

54’ Jess Fishlock, assist Tziarra King (2–1 ACFC)

64’ Sofia Huerta (2–2)

89’ Tobin Heath, Assist Sofia Huerta (3–2 OL)

With OL’s Bethany Balcer out with injury, there wasn’t much better timing for Jordyn Huitema to make her debut for the Reign, getting the start on Saturday. Angel City kept up its trend of scoring early at home when in the 9th minute Claire Emslie took a shot from the right side of the box which forced Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce to make a diving stop. Unluckily for her and luckily for Angel City, the rebound fell centrally right onto the run of Cari Roccaro, who with her first touch was able to slot the ball into the back of the net. The goal marked Roccaro’s first NWSL goal in her seven years in the league. In the 28th minute, Sydney Leroux went down in the box shoulder to shoulder with Alana Cook and a penalty kick was awarded as well as a yellow for Cook. Savannah McCaskill stepped up to the spot to take it and while Tullis-Joyce guessed left, she slotted it to the right to put Angel City up by two. 

OL reign celebrates their equalizer / OL Reign

It looked like the Reign were going to get one back when, in the 32nd minute, Jess Fishlock hit a screamer off the woodwork, and then Jordyn Huitema dove to get her head on the deflection, but Angel City goalkeeper DiDi Haracic was able to make the save and keep Angel City out of danger. The Reign came knocking again in the 41st minute when Sofia Huerta sent a cross into the box. Jordyn Huitema headed the ball down to herself just a few feet outside the box and then slipped the ball between the legs of Haracic but defender Paige Nielsen was there for Angel City with the goal line clearance. In the 6th minute of stoppage, a penalty was awarded to the Reign when Jess Fishlock was bodied off the ball by Jun Endo. Kim Little took the penalty and went to the lower left, but Haracic once again came up big with the save and Endo cleared the deflection out of trouble. The first half ended with Angel City having 4 shots, 3 on frame, 14 final third entries, and 1.27 expected goals. The Reign had 14 shots, 6 on frame, 40 final third entries, and 1.85 expected goals. 

Cari Roccaro dribbles around a sliding Sofia Huerta / Angel City Football Club

The Reign finally found the back of the net in the 54th minute when Jess Fishlock and Tziarra King had a lovely give and go which ended in Fishlock having the ball within the Angel City box and sending a curling ball towards the far post. This time, the post cooperated and the ball ricocheted back toward the netting. The Reign continued to look dangerous and in the 64th minute were finally able to equalize. After a Kim Little corner kick was bobbled by Haracic, the ball was cleared to right outside the box where Sofia Huerta was waiting. Huerta took a single touch to collect and then hit an absolute banger into the upper left 90 of the goal frame outside of the reach of Haracic. It looked like the Reign would take the lead in the 81st minute when a counter lead by Rose Lavelle pulled both Angel City defenders over to stop her and Jess Fishlock was left unmarked to make a run centrally. Lavelle’s pass to Fishlock was perfect but Fishlock’s shot was saved point blank by Haracic. 

It looked like the match might end up in a draw until the 89th minute when Huerta was able to get a cross off toward an unmarked Tobin Heath right in front of the goal. Off the volley, Heath was able to send a cheeky left-footed shot right between the legs of Haracic to put the Reign up 3–2. Heath’s goal was her first for the Reign in only her second appearance for the team, both with her coming off the bench. The Reign defense was dominating and clean in the second half; Angel City didn’t have their first shot on target until stoppage time. When the second half ended Angel City had 9 shots, 4 on frame, 34 final third entries, and 1.51 expected goals. The Reign had 25 shots, 12 on frame, 75 final third entries, and 2.64 expected goals. 

Portland survives another, keeps the streak alive

7’ Sophia Smith, Assist Morgan Weaver (1–0 POR)

29’ Alex Chidiac, Assist Jaelin Howell (1–1)

74’ Hina Sugita (2–1 POR)

The Thorns started the scoring early in the first half when, in the 7th minute, Morgan Weaver sent a ball forward to Sophia Smith at the halfway line. Smith was able to get around Racing defender Gemma Bonner and dribble all the way to just outside of the 6-yard box before taking a left-footed shot in what looked to be an impossible angle to the far post. Even with the 0.008 xG on the shot, Smith was able to find the back of the net past the outstretched Katie Lund. 

Portland Thorns FC’s Sophia Smith dribbles under pressure / Portland Thorns FC

Racing took the challenge of impossible angles very seriously in their 29th minute chance when Jaelin Howell found Alex Chidiac along the endline. Chidiac was able to get around Natalia Kuikka on the outer edge and from the endline still find a sliver of open space between goalkeeper Bella Bixby and the post to put the equalizer in the net. There was only a 0.002 xG on Chidiac’s shot. The first half ended with Portland having 16 shots, 4 on target, 22 final third entries, 6 crosses, and 55% possession. Racing concluded with 5 shots, 2 on target, 23 final third entries, 10 crosses, and 45% possession. The expected goals for the Thorns were 0.57 while Racing had 0.09. 

The second half kicked off with Tegan McGrady coming on the pitch for her debut with the Thorns. The trade with San Diego for McGrady was announced only four days before the match, and given that she only had a single team practice before the team left for Louisville, her 45-minute performance is just that much more impressive. In the 74th minute, Portland broke the stalemate and scored the go-ahead goal. Rocky Rodriguez cracked off a shot from right outside the box that forced Lund to make a diving save at the near post. Fortunately for Portland, the two centerbacks in the box forgot to mark Portland midfielder Hina Sugita, who was making a central run and was there to put the deflection in the back of the net. 

Bella Bixby had 6 saves in the match for the Thorns and kept them in the match. In the 52nd minute, she pushed the ball just wide of the net by her fingertips. She had another big one in the 83rd minute where she was able to deflect a point blank range shot by Jess McDonald just wide of the goal. When the final whistle blew Portland had 25 shots, 6 on target, 47 final third entries, 12 crosses, and 51.4% possession. Racing Louisville completed the match with 17 shots, 7 on target, 58 final third entries, 22 crosses, and 48.6% possession. 

San Diego holds on

27’ Jaedyn Shaw, Assist Katie Johnson (1–0 SD)

58’ Abby Dahlkemper, RED CARD

The Saturday night match marked 17-year-old Jaedyn Shaw’s professional debut as she earned the start against the Red Stars. Shaw signed with San Diego on July 18th, and with the mandated 7-day break had only a week with the team before getting the start. In the 27th minute, Emily van Egmond sent a ball forward to Katie Johnson attacking on the left side. As Johnson approached the 6-yard box, she waited until the last second with defenders and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher collapsing to send the ball laterally to Jaedyn Shaw making a run at the far post. Shaw took one touch to center the ball, then sent a left-footed shot into the netting from close range. 

Throughout the half, the Chicago defense really did a good job of shutting down the Wave passing lanes and disrupting the flow of attack leaving the team with its lowest possession numbers of the regular season (43.12%) as well as its second lowest passing accuracy in the opposition half numbers. Additionally, although Chicago had a substantial amount of shots in the first half, they were unable to get one on target until the 44th minute. The Wave ended the half with 5 shots, 1 on frame, 9 touches in the Red Stars box, and 6 crosses. The Red Stars had 10 shots, 1 on frame, 16 touches in the Wave box, and 11 total crosses. The expected goals from the first half had San Diego with 0.57 and Chicago with 0.82.

Naomi Girma intercepts and clears a Chicago advance / San Diego Wave FC

In the 58th minute, Abby Dahlkemper received her second yellow card of the night for a Mal Pugh takedown in what would’ve been a Chicago breakaway and San Diego would be left to play with 10 for the remainder of the match. In the 81st minute, Girma was called for a foul against Ella Stevens in the box and Chicago was awarded a penalty kick. Mal Pugh went up to the spot for the Red Stars and went to the lower right corner but Kailen Sheridan was going in that direction the whole time and was able to push the ball away from the goal frame. 

At the end of the match, San Diego only had 9 shots, 4 on frame, 14 touches in the Chicago box, and 10 crosses. Chicago, on the other hand, had 20 shots, 4 on frame, 38 touches in the Wave box, and 23 crosses. Chicago ended up having 2.34 expected goals, while San Diego finished the game with only 0.85. 

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