Week two of the NWSL Challenge Cup was a little less exciting than week one, not just by dint of not being the opener, but also due to narrow results between a lot of rusty teams. Almost everyone looks like they’re still in warm-up mode (which is fine and to be expected, but sometimes makes for zzzz soccer) and everyone’s roster is still missing key international players. So it’s not quite a preview of the regular season yet, for some clubs more than others.
Gotham FC 1-0 Orlando Pride
A very rough start for the Orlando Pride, who were coming off a 2-2 tie against Racing Louisville. At first it looked like Gotham might be the shakier team here with GK DiDi Haracic making an early mistake coming off her line and whiffing the grab on the ball, but she and the club ended up pulling it together and controlling much of the tempo of the game. Unfortunately, that tempo was pretty blah, as Gotham played possession without focus. NWSL game stats say that Gotham outpassed Orlando by nearly 200 passes 538 to 342, with 80.9% accuracy to 69.6%. And for all that, they produced seven shots to Orlando’s 17. This is, of course, a Gotham that was missing McCall Zerboni at the last minute due to a warmup injury, and didn’t have Estelle Johnson, Carli Lloyd, Midge Purce, and Evelyne Viens. You could also argue this was an Alex Morgan-less Orlando, but Gotham was missing more core pieces. And in the end, Gotham were the ones with the W, thanks to a Paige Monaghan goal after Gotham made a couple of subs and finally gained some forward momentum.
After the game, Orlando head coach Marc Skinner acknowledge issues in his defense while calling Gotham the “fresher” team since Orlando were returning from an away game. “We just need to take a chance while we’re on top and that’s what we didn’t do and that’s what we’ve got to do,” he said.
Washington Spirit 1-0 Racing Louisville
Louisville might have given their home fans an exciting comeback in their opener, but traveling away against the Spirit, their defensive issues were still apparent. That’s not to say the Spirit looked defensively sound either, but they made up for it with a stronger attacking unit between Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman, as well as good halftime adjustments that allowed them to get forward more. Louisville’s top draft pic Emina Ekic did look promising at times, just as she did in the opener, and with continued development she could be a good young player to watch in this league. Although speaking of good young player - is it too soon to name Rodman the leading contender for rookie of the year? She hasn’t gotten to play two full games yet but she has looked smart and bold-but-not-too-risky in her movement, dribbling, and shot selection.
This might have been the “best” game of the week in terms of head-to-head tactics, execution, and team cohesion. It didn’t necessarily make for a wildly exciting game, but it shows that these two teams are perhaps coming into the season feeling more settled, with more continuity.
Chicago tried to press a little harder on Portland’s left side, with Kealia Watt often trying to round the corner on her defender on both sides and look for the cross, to mixed results. On the other side, the Thorns scored their winning goal with about as direct a ball as you could ask for, catching the Red Stars pressing out of their half. Celeste Boureille hit a ball right in front of Morgan Weaver, who was able to hold off Casey Krueger and dink it in off the post.
“We quit passing the ball,” said head coach Rory Dames after the game. “And if you don’t pass the ball against Portland and it turns into physical battles and winning first and second balls, they’re going to be very good at that. So I think once we started to make some subs, we lost the flow of the game. The game just turned into kicking the ball back and forth and if that means Portland played with more pace, then so be it, but I think we just quit passing the ball.”
Houston Dash 0-0 OL Reign
If Portland-Chicago was the (relatively) organized game, then Houston-Reign was the opposite. Things started off in the minus column already for the Reign, as Allie Long was ruled out with a warmup injury, although her replacement, Angelina, wasn’t a liability by any means. On top of that new Reign GK Karen Bardsley, fresh from England, did not look settled in between the sticks. Game momentum went back and forth, the Reign trying to pour in crosses, the Dash trying to break lines a little more looking for Shea Groom. Visalli was energetic but often ineffective for Houston while Groom looked a little better in the central channel. It was, ultimately, a game where you might be glad to simply hear the final whistle (sorry Dash/Reign fans).
Coming up: midweek madness and at least one NWSL After Dark game yay.
Gotham FC vs NC Courage, 6 PM ET
Chicago Red Stars vs Kansas City, 8:30 PM ET
Orlando Pride vs Washington Spirit, 7 PM ET
Portland Thorns vs OL Reign, 10 PM ET