NWSL Fall Series Week 2

It’s been another week of goal-packed (for the most part) action in the NWSL’s Fall Series as three more teams took the field for the first time, while already having games under their belts, continued to ease into a more mid-season form. 

North Carolina Courage 0- Orlando Pride 0

For the first time in the Fall Series, both teams were shut out, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Courage fired 18 shots towards the goal, hitting the target on four of them. On the other end the Pride, who were getting their first action since last season after pulling out of the Challenge Cup due to positive COVID tests, managed six total shots, with two forcing saves from Stephanie Labbé. 

It was a hard fought battle from the opening whistle, with no team ever looking like they were being outplayed. The possession numbers finished at 51% for Orlando and 49% for North Carolina. Despite the departure of several high profile players to European sides, the quality of play was there throughout the game, which is a good sign for the league. 

North Carolina came the closest to breaking the deadlock in the 83rd minute, but Orlando defender Carrie Lawrence was there on the goal line to save the day. The two-time champion Courage now sit in first place through two weeks of action, as one of the four teams to have played multiple games, while the Pride sit in sixth. 

Chicago Red Stars 4- Sky Blue FC 1

The Red Stars bounced back in a big way after dropping their opener to Washington last week. It looked like it might be a second loss in a row for the team from the Windy City as they fell behind in the sixth minute after a Ifeoma Onumonu goal. But almost out of nowhere, the Red Stars surged back with four unanswered goals. 

It was Kealia Watts who led the Chicago charge, answering Onumonu’s goal with one of her own just four minutes later. Vanessa DiBernardo won the ball before poking it through to Watts who had already started her run. The striker used her speed to keep away from the surging Sky Blue back line to neatly put it past Kailen Sheridan. 

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Zoe Goralski then caught Sheridan cheating off the long ball and made the Canadian keeper pay. Bryant caught sight of Goralski, who was pressing high on the defensive line. The long ball fell almost perfectly into Goralski’s path, who made the finish look easy as she slipped past a falling Sheridan around the 25 yard line to roll it into the net. 

The Red Stars weren’t done for the half yet. Watts and DiBernardo linked up again, this time changing roles. Watts perfectly picked out DiBernardo at the top of the box. The midfielder took a touch before sending a magnificent shot into the top corner. Sheridan made a diving effort but couldn’t get to the soaring ball. 

New Jersey finally caught a break with the halftime whistle. The biggest adjustment made at the half was the substitution of Sheridan for backup keeper DiDi Haracic. 

Chicago put the exclamation mark on their win with a fourth goal in the 57th minute. It was Watts again who got past a sliding Haracic to slide it into the net for her second of the game. 

The Red Stars currently sit in third, behind the Thorns on goal differential, while Sky Blue are in fifth, also based on goal differential. 

Portland Thorns 3- Utah Royals 0

The Portland Thorns loudly announced their arrival to the series with an emphatic win over Utah in the final game of the week. The Royals deserve full credit though, as they put in a complete 90 minute performance despite the copious amounts of off-field turmoil surrounding the team. There was the already existing circumstance of their racist owner Dell Loy Hansen and his announcement that he would be selling the team. Prior to the game, the club also placed head coach, Craig Harrison, and assistant coach Louis Lancaster, on administrative leave in accordance with the ongoing investigation. 

Former player and assistant coach Amy LePeilbet was named interim head coach. Before kick off, the players released a statement via social media, and made a statement on the field as they put in a well-rounded performance under their new bench boss. 

Nonetheless, the Thorns did put in a majestic performance that deserves to be celebrated, starting with Simone Charley’s masterpiece of an opening goal. Not only did she display exquisite touch in getting under control, she sliced through Utah defenders like a hot knife through butter en route to firing home what might be a goal of the year candidate. 

Sophia Smith, this year’s first overall pick, wasted no time welcoming herself to the league, scoring her first goal in the 72nd minute, which was only her third ever minute of professional action as she was a 69th minute sub. Megan Kligenberg fired in a cross from the corner and Smith made no mistake of the header to finish. 

The Thorns added the crowning jewel to their win in the 81st minute as Linsay Horan did it all herself for the third goal. Horan has quickly become an integral piece in Portland, a role she began to cement during the Challenge Cup. Simply put, she was everywhere during this game, creating chances as much as she was coming up big defensively. Her goal was a result of her high pressure that forced a flubbed Royals’ goalie exchange. Horan charged the box to have Smith’s clearance attempt rickashay off of her into the back of the Utah net.  

Image credit: Ray Terrill, Wikimedia Commons

The Thorns find themselves in second place despite only having played one game. Granted, there are currently four teams with three points, Portland just has the best goal differential among them. The Royals are currently sitting in last place, but this is a gritty team with a lot of off-field motivation to play, so it’s only a matter of time until they move on up. 

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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