NWSL Fall Series Week 1 Action

The NWSL Fall Series kicked off on September 5, 2020 and featured three close games over the course of its opening week. The momentum the league began to build with the success of the Challenge Cup was on full display throughout the first week, and should continue until a winner is crowned. 

Sky Blue FC 2- Washington Spirit 1

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Play kicked off at Segra field in Virginia, pitting the New Jersey based Sky Blue FC against an up and coming Washington Spirit side. It didn’t take long for the goals to start, with Ifeoma Onumonu breaking the deadlock in the 18th minute. The goal was a product of solid defensive play that Onumonu quickly capitalized on. 

The game remained cagey until the final 10 minutes, when it became obvious that Washington wasn’t going to go down easy. Kailen Sheridan, the future of Canadian goal-keeping, came up with a massive save in the 82nd minute to keep her side level. While the save was spectacular, it was nothing her teammates, for both club and country, haven’t become accustomed to seeing. Despite Sheridan’s timely stop, the Spirit drew level in the 89th minute as Paige Nielson calmly converted a spot kick . 

Just as it looked like it each team would walk away with a point, Midge Purce snatched the win for Sky Blue FC. The goal was set up by Mallory Pugh, who was making her debut for her new side as a second-half sub. Pugh picked out Purce’s magnificent run and dropped the ball into her path for the stoppage time dagger. 

Both teams should be satisfied with their opening play. Sky Blue FC definitely managed to set the tone early and never looked to be under any sort of duress, despite the late equalizer. The Spirit started to connect more and more as the game went on, but were just missing some chemistry in the final third to pull the result in their favour.

Washington Spirit 2- Chicago Red Stars 1

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The Spirit had a quick turnaround after their opening loss, as they were back in action seven days later. It looked as though it would be more of the same for the Spirit, as they fell behind early. It was Chicago’s rookie, Sarah Leubbert, who opened the scoring in the 26th minute with her first career goal. The opener was a picture perfect example of the kind of soccer the club wants to play; strong link up play through all levels of the pitch. This time, it was Savannah McCaskill who started things off by finding Kealia Watt. Watt wasted no time in sending the perfect cross into the box, right into the run of Luebbert. 

Not too long after playing a pivotal role in the opening goal, McCaskill’s contributions were over for the day as she picked up her second yellow just before halftime. Chicago was left to defend their one-goal advantage with one less player for over 45 minutes. 

Washington finally took advantage of being up a woman in the 71st minute, with Bayley Feist having some room in the box to slot away the equalizer. The Spirit had numbers up and pressing in the box and were simply becoming too much for Chicago to handle. 

The Red Stars were denied a glorious opportunity for the short-handed lead in the 86th minute first by the crossbar, and then by Aubrey Bledsoe, who kept the door shut and the game even. Not to be outdone, however, Alyssa Naeher posted a few consecutive big saves of her own in the 91st minute, making it look as though her side would escape with a point, despite playing with 10 women for more than half of the game. 

A mere two minutes later, though, Jessie Scarpa ensured that that would not happen as she fired home the winner off of a Crystal Thomas assist. Thomas showed off her strong play in the box, holding off Chicago defenders until Scarpa freed herself up. 

North Carolina Courage 4- Houston Dash 3

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The final game of opening week was a barnburner, with the Courage taking on the reigning Challenge Cup champions at home. The Dash didn’t appear to miss a beat since walking away from Utah with the trophy, as they had North Carolina on the back foot from the opening minute. Just 45 seconds in, Stephanie Labbé was forced to come up with a big stop to keep the score at zeroes across the board. The tides appeared to be changing as it was the Courage who opened the scoring, with captain Abby Dahlkemper making the penalty kick look easy in the 18th minute. 

Not long after the somewhat surprising goal, Valerie Latsko pulled her side even. The tying goal came in the 25th minute, after Shea Groom unselfishly set up her teammate. Groom wasn’t done terrorizing the Courage back line, as her sustained pressure forced them to break enough to let Kristie Mewis fire home the go ahead goal in the 37th minute. 

The Courage came out of the break pressing hard for the equalizer, and were quickly rewarded. Debinha unleashed an absolute howitzer from outside the box to put her side back on level terms just seven minutes after halftime. The Brazilian’s strike could quite possibly find itself in contention for goal of the year.

What followed was the longest goalless drought of the game: a gaping 19-minute hole in which the scoreline did not change. It was the Canadian Sophie Schmidt who ended the spell with a finish from the top of the box in the 71st minute. Just like that, the Dash were back on top. 

Not done yet, the Courage came back to tie the game again in the 82nd minute, this time off of a Lynn Williams finish. Before Williams could fire it to the top corner, Rylee Baisden ripped down the wing to set up her teammate. 

North Carolina put it to bed just four minutes after that thanks to another Debinha goal. The play started with a Courage corner that nobody in the box could get under control. As the ball rolled past the 18, Debinha came in on clean-up duty and capped off the goal fest with the seventh of the affair. 

Final Thoughts

If the opening week of the Fall Series is any indication, we are in for an entertaining, and somewhat nerve wracking, ride. The quality of play was fit for national television, which bodes well for the league. Don’t forget that you can stream all games live on Twitch and can also tune into the Game of the Week on CBS Sports. And come back to Unbenched every week for a roundup on the action from the last seven days. 

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