This was the week most clubs got their international players back, and it showed. That, combined with the chaos energy that has been permeating the Challenge Cup, made for some very fun games (or fun halves of games, mixed with stale other halves).
Gotham FC 4-3 North Carolina Courage
The first game of the week was the wildest. Gotham actually dominated NC here and there, although Gotham was probably closer to 100% than NC in terms of roster strength and availability. But Gotham got back Carli Lloyd and Midge Purce; Purce in particular was on one that night, starting at forward in a line with Lloyd and Paige Monaghan, though Lloyd was asked to drop while Purce and Monaghan scythed up the flanks. If you need a description of how funky this game was, the score was 2-2 by the 26’ and both Purce and Debinha were sitting on potential hat tricks, though neither of them was able to complete one.
Most goals in a single Challenge Cup match?— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 21, 2021
Let's run them all back ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/IULWzQdd3T
NC had trouble countering together at times and Gotham continued their trend of somewhat aimless possession, although there was improvement from last week. Gotham also has a big positional need at DM, where Jennifer Cudjoe has been filling in as best she can but is clearly not comfortable as an ad hoc Zerboni replacement.
Chicago Red Stars 1-1 Kansas City
This game might have had its share of doldrums, but the last 10 minutes were outright riveting, starting with A-Rod deciding she was tired of the deadlock and, well-
Katie Johnson answered right back two minutes later in slightly less dramatic fashion.
Chicago did have the slightly better of the game, defensive oopsie on the A-Rod goal notwithstanding. KC head coach Huw Williams said after the game, “First half, we got hammered. Let’s be honest. They were way better than we were in the first half.”
“We took took a while to adjust to the speed of it, to the tempo,” he said. “They were trapping us, especially on the left hand side, and we weren’t dealing with it well enough. Tweaked a couple of things at halftime positionally.”
This was another game where the scoreline went a little bit against the actual momentum of the teams, due in no small part to Ashlyn Harris, who included a penalty save among her list of contributions to getting the three points. Perhaps not the most astutely taken penalty in the world, but you have to credit Harris’ general energy and focus in helping keeping the Pride on track. Washington clearly had the better build-up and scoring opportunities and just...didn’t use any of them in a way that would create a goal. See: Spirit’s nine shots on goal to Pride’s three, and the final scoreline.
Syd Leroux and Alex Morgan looked like they were plenty happy to be playing together and getting back into a groove, creating Orlando’s early lead. Trinity Rodman continues to look like early frontrunner for rookie of the year, although Ashley Hatch inversely looks frustrating when asked to step up and bear more of the Spirit’s goalscoring load.
“It’s just right now a little bit out of sync, a little bit out of sorts, and we’ll continue to have a little look at our tactics so we get that piece right,” Richie Burke said of his attacking setup on the night.
The Thorns looked like they had the Reign well in hand for much of the game; early on, it seemed as though they might run away with things a little bit. But the second half saw lots and lots of subs from both sides, the Reign struggling to adjust and find a way out of their own half while the Thorns set the line of confrontation high in the midfield. Perhaps the Reign would characterize it as a low block, but their defense looked uncertain, unwilling to step, giving up space until their backs were to the wall. Though the Reign tried to keep Crystal Dunn surrounded, that still left Lindsey Horan and Simone Charley roaming, with a generous helping of Sophia Smith on the side. Charley might have really put the scoreline beyond the Reign, but if there’s one major area of growth for her it’s not getting tunnel vision in front of the goal and being able to find the right pass into space. The Thorns were also able to really engage their fullbacks on both sides of the pitch. Portland outshot the Reign three to one, toasting the Reign’s central defense; the Reign defense in general had a hard time during this one.
“Sliding into the 10 for me late in the game felt pretty natural,” Crystal Dunn said after the game, “Because even when I was an eight, I was kind of popping into that space and then popping back into that eight role again. So the midfield is really fluid. It’s really fun to be in a position where everyone around you is moving and trying to show for the ball and getting on the ball, and I tend to do way better when I’m not put in box and when I’m told that I can be free and really express myself.