NWSL Central Week 12 Recap

Hard-fought matches defined Week 12 as the second half of the season officially begins and teams fight for their chance at the playoffs.

By Bekki Morgan

As NWSL teams return to play after a league-mandated week-long break, they’ll have many of their key players back who were missing due to international play for most of July. For the NWSL Central teams, these additions certainly gave them a boost but didn’t necessarily give them the edge they might have expected. And with the season at its halfway point, some of them are going to need to figure out how to get a leg up before their postseason dreams get dashed.

Let’s take a look at all the action from Week 12:

Racing Louisville Get Edged Out By Portland

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

29’ Alex Chidiac, assisted by Jaelin Howell (1–1)

74’ Hina Sugita (2–1 POR)

The match started off with Racing Louisville on their back foot as the Portland Thorns essentially dominated the game’s tempo right out of the gate. In the 7th minute, Sophia Smith was able to make her way around Racing center back Gemma Bonner and get a low rolling shot off past the outstretched hand of keeper Katie Lund. Despite the difficult angle, it found the back of the net and put Portland up by one. 

Racing didn’t let this disrupt them mentally, however. They found their way back into the game and, in the 29th minute, Alex Chidiac dribbled all the way down the end line from the corner to beat defender Natalia Kuikka and somehow toe-poke the ball in through the sliver of space left between the near post and keeper Bella Bixby. Racing and the Thorns would go into the half tied 1–1.

Racing celebrate Alex Chidiac’s goal against the Thorns / Image courtesy EM Dash – USA Today Sports Images

In the second half, both sides held their own and Racing got the majority of early chances. Then, in the 74th minute, Portland’s Rocky Rodriguez’s shot was stopped by Racing keeper Katie Lund but Lund was unable to hold onto it. The rebound fell to a charging Hina Sugita who put it back into the net with no opposition from Racing’s defenders putting Portland up 2–1. 

Both sides traded chances for the rest of the second half and Racing came very close to equalizing when a shot from Jessica McDonald was barely tipped away by Bixby. However, they were not able to find another goal before the final whistle and the game ended with Portland taking all three points.

Racing Louisville needs points if they’re going to stay in the competition for the playoffs and, unfortunately, they didn’t get any on Friday. Despite this, the game showed some positives for Racing. In their brief history, they’ve never scored on Portland and they’ve never lost by less than two goals. So in this way, there was some progress. However, they’re still not finishing their chances and are continuing to make simple defensive errors that lose them games. Until they correct these errors, they’ll continue to drop points they should be earning. Luckily for them, they have a quick turnaround to play OL Reign on Tuesday where they’ll need to earn points if they’re going to have any chance of reaching a playoff spot.

The Red Stars Fall to San Diego

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

After going on an eight-game unbeaten streak, the Chicago Red Stars have stumbled in their last two matches. Despite the return of superstars Mallory Pugh and Alyssa Naeher for Chicago and Alex Morgan for San Diego, a teenage debutante was the difference maker on Saturday night.

The solo goal of the evening happened in the 27th minute when San Diego’s Katie Johnson received a long ball into the penalty box. She passed to Jaedyn Shaw only a few yards away and Shaw faked out a defender and scored from a short distance. This was not only the 17-year-old Shaw’s first NWSL goal, it was her first NWSL match.

Chicago versus San Diego / Image courtesy Imagn

Despite the goal, Chicago actually had the upper hand in most of the first half. They had twice as many shots as San Diego (10 to 5) and double the big chances (2 to 1). The second half began with Chicago again on the front foot, but even San Diego defender Abby Dahlkemper earning a red card in the 60th minute wasn’t enough to get Chicago the goal they needed.

In the 80th minute, it seemed like Chicago was handed an opportunity on a silver platter when Ella Stevens earned a penalty after being fouled by Naomi Girma in the box. Mal Pugh stepped up to convert the penalty but it was saved and the Red Stars weren’t able to collect the second ball for another chance. And so the match ended 1–0 in San Diego’s favor thanks to that goal by newcomer Shaw. 

Despite sitting in 4th place currently, the Red Stars are only a game or so away from potentially dropping out of playoff contention. They created more than enough chances to score, and games like this need to be won—especially when earning a penalty. In the first half of the season, Chicago was one of the most cohesive teams in the league. They seemed to work effortlessly together no matter how the squad was rotated. These two most recent dropped games could, at best, just be a sign of midseason fatigue. With nine games left, they have more than enough time to right the ship. But they can’t let this streak continue with teams like the Kansas City Current and OL Reign poised to knock them down the standings.

Houston Dash Push Past Gotham After Going Behind Early

4’ Paige Monaghan, assisted by Taylor Smith (1–0 GOT)

18’ Mandy Freeman, own goal (1–1)

36’ Shea Groom, assisted by Maria Sánchez (2–1 HOU)

70’ Sophie Schmidt, assisted by Marisa Viggiano (3–1 HOU)

73’ Ebony Salmon, penalty  (4–1 HOU)

82’ Midge Purce, assisted by Ellie Jean  (4–2 HOU)

It seemed like hosts Gotham might have the upper hand against the Houston Dash on Saturday evening, but the Dash quickly proved they weren’t going to let their hot streak cool that easily.

In only the 4th minute, Gotham got on the board early when an onrushing Monaghan scored on Houston keeper Jane Campbell on the breakaway. After starting on the back foot, Houston was able to get some momentum going about 10 minutes later when a corner kick was deflected into the net by Gotham defender Mandy Freeman for an own goal. The rest of the half played out fairly evenly until the 36th minute when a cross from Maria Sánchez found Shea Groom in the penalty area and Groom found the back of the net with a powerful header to put the Dash firmly in front.

The Houston Dash celebrate a goal against Gotham / Image courtesy the Houston Dash

In the second half, the Dash peppered Gotham with some weak chances until they finally got another one in the 70th minute when Midfielder Marisa Viggiano found Sophie Schmidt standing just outside the top of the penalty box. Schmidt blasted it home and scored a worldie to put Houston up 3–1. And Houston wasn’t done either. Just two minutes later, Maria Sánchez was fouled in the box to earn a penalty that was calmly converted by Ebony Salmon. Gotham did have a late rally with Midge Purce scoring on a breakaway run, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stop the Dash who ended the game on top 4–2.

This was another dominant display by Houston who have found themselves entering the second half of the season on a hot streak. This is the second straight game where they’ve scored four goals. Ebony Salmon has scored four goals herself in the last two matches. And although she didn’t get credited with more than an assist, it was Maria Sánchez who was involved in almost every single goal. She struck the corner that turned into an own goal, she assisted Shea Groom, and she drew the penalty that Salmon converted. If Sánchez and Salmon can stay on form, they might just be unstoppable moving forward.

Kansas City Scratch Out a Draw Against Orlando

25’ Celia, assisted by Erika Tymrak  (1–0 ORL)

46’ Julia Doyle, assisted by Meggie Dougherty Howard (2–0 ORL)

57’ Elyse Bennett, assisted by Hailie Mace (2–1 ORL)

82’ Cece Kizer, assisted by Lo’eau LaBonta (2–2)

Orlando has been known to win or tie games with late draws, but this time they got on the board first and Kansas City was the one fighting to come back from behind.

In the first moments, it looked like Kansas City would be on top with Victoria Pickett and Kristen Hamilton connecting for a good effort early on. The Pride held them off, however, and they were able to score on the Current off a header in the 25th minute. Both sides continued to trade chances and it looked to be anyone’s game, but the halftime whistle left the game at 1–0 in Orlando’s favor.

In the second half, Orlando doubled their score almost immediately. In a rare error by AD Franch, she came out and collided with teammate Elizabeth Ball and was stunned for a moment while the ball went free. No Kansas City player adequately covered the goal and Orlando was able to score easily.

Despite going down 2–0, Kansas City wasn’t out of the match. About 10 minutes later, Elyse Bennett made a solo run down the right flank and into the penalty area to score the Current’s first goal of the night. The goal inspired an increase in attack and it was all Orlando could do to maintain the lead. In the 82nd minute, Kansas City finally broke through when Lo’eau LaBonta sent a ball in to Cece Kizer. Kizer was able to settle it and put it over the Orlando keeper to earn the equalizer. The match would end 2–2.

Cece Kizer earns the equalizer against Orlando / Image courtesy Imagn

This was a good effort from Kansas City that demonstrated their resiliency. Despite going down significantly, they were able to battle back and turn the momentum in their favor. Kansas City clings onto a playoff berth with this draw as they barely sit in 6th place. The playoffs are theirs to lose right now as they’re in a position to either climb the standings or fall just short. With the resilience and momentum they’ve been showing, however, they seem like they’ll be hard to stop.

Racing Louisville Earns a Hard-Fought, Bloody Draw Against OL Reign

2’ Jess Fishlock, assisted by Megan Rapinoe (1–0 OLR)

45’+1’ Kirsten Davis (1–1)

If Kansas City scratched out a draw against Orlando, Racing Louisville practically dug into the center of the earth to get their 1–1 draw against OL Reign on Tuesday night. Racing spilled actual blood on the pitch in the fight to keep things even thanks to injuries to Emily Fox and Gemma Bonner, but came out the other end with a point.

It looked as if the game was going to be decided in the first moments as OL Reign earned an almost immediate corner which was ultimately turned into a goal as Racing’s defenders were left frozen on the spot. The rest of the first half remained almost entirely in Seattle’s favor as they dominated possession and created a handful of big chances. It was also extremely physical with Racing’s Savannah DeMelo somehow avoiding a yellow card after pulling down Megan Rapinoe, and later Emily Fox getting bloodied after tangling with OL Reign defender Sofia Huerta. In the 40th minute, Racing defender Gemma Bonner got a very bloody head wound after colliding in the box with Alana Cook. 

Racing’s Kirsten Davis / Image courtesy EM Dash – USA Today Sports Images

When it seemed like all was lost for Racing, rookie forward Kirsten Davis made a brilliant solo run in stoppage time to beat Cook and the Seattle keeper to put things level. In the second half, Racing got a bit more back on their feet and created some better chances, but none of them were on target. Despite a continued barrage from OL Reign, Racing was able to stand firm thanks to defender Katie Lund making a record 12 saves to keep things level at 1–1.

There’s no question that Racing should be relieved to get a point from this match. They put their bodies on the line and it ultimately paid off. Still, Racing showed just how much they still need to work on. Their passing wasn’t accurate enough and their plays got disrupted far too often. They only created a single shot on goal all match and while that shot did turn into a goal, that’s nowhere near enough production to win matches. The good news for Racing, though, is that they showed that they’re tough and not an easy team to beat. If playoffs are becoming a more distant option for Racing who are now deeply enmeshed in a nine-game winless streak, they can at least relish the chance to play the spoiler as they work on their development for next season. 

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