The NWSL had another week and weekend of action go by where we saw the league leaders San Diego Wave FC lose away at OL Reign but still stay at the top of the table, while somehow, NJ/NY Gotham FC came away from Los Angeles with a big three points.
We already mentioned the madness that was the Orlando Pride vs the Washington Spirit game on Friday night, so I’ll be looking at three other things that I found fascinating from the latest round of NWSL matches.
Sofia Huerta, take a bow
Sofia Huerta’s technique has always been known but over the last two seasons, it’s become a focal point for not only OL Reign but the USWNT as well. Her defensive positioning is slowly coming along but it’s her ability going forward that makes OL Reign tick. During the last two matches for the Seattle-based side, Huerta has been the creative force behind OL Reign’s two wins. In the first game against KC Current, her cross from out on the right found the head of Bethany Balcer and Balcer scored the only goal of the game. Against San Diego, Huerta’s free kick was met by a diving header from Rose Lavelle, which again turned out to be the only goal of the game.
❌➡️⭕Just like it was drawn up at practice! @RoseLavelle leads her squad in the 75th minute!#BoldTogether | @OLReign pic.twitter.com/tEouWjEesl— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) May 29, 2022
During both matches, and previous ones, Sofia Huerta has been consistently putting the ball in the right places for her teammates to capitalise on and they just haven’t managed to. Her crossing and passing accuracy are what make the Reign’s offense tick and once the rest of her team starts to finish those assists she’s producing, don’t be surprised if she tops the assist chart at the end of the season.
Chicago are fun to watch
Yes, the Chicago Red Stars are one of the most fun teams to watch in the NWSL right now. That wasn’t a label you could put on them in previous seasons but under Chris Petrucelli, the Red Stars are producing some of the most exciting football the league has seen so far this season.
At the heart of this thrilling football is Mal Pugh and possible Rookie of the Year contender, Ava Cook. Mal Pugh is Mal Pugh and she’s finally found her footing again after a lot of seasons dealing with injuries. She’s fully fit again and firing on all cylinders.
The @chicagoredstars are as @r_hill3 opens her account on the year!#CHIvPOR | #MKOT pic.twitter.com/2CG8CNJ0GN— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) May 29, 2022
Ava Cook has been a revelation for the Red Stars and for anyone who’s had the chance to watch her play. Against Portland Thorns FC recently, she was the focal point for everything the Red Stars tried to do going forward as she not only held up the ball well but also looked to create chances for her teammates.
The more this new-look Chicago team play together, the more impressive they seem to be getting. Petrucelli has done a great job so far with this team and it’ll be interesting to see if they can go one better this year and lift that NWSL Championship trophy.
The Gotham force field has returned
A team has 23 shots, seven on target and 55% of the possession while another team has seven shots, two of those on target. Which team do you think, had you not seen the final result, won this game? The answer is, the team that shot the least miraculously scored the one vital goal to give them all three points. That team was Gotham FC.
As the game unfolded, I was left wondering how Angel City could not find the back of the net, despite coming close on numerous occasions (23 shots should explain that). Ashlyn Harris pulled of some amazing saves while some desperate defending and shots going narrowly wide kept Angel City from finding the back of the net.
1 goal, lots of saves and all 3 points #LAvNJNY presented by @Nationwide pic.twitter.com/bPVlnTJmu5— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) May 30, 2022
Gotham FC last season was known for having these kind of games. The types of games where their opponents would be shooting for fun at their goal but somehow, some way, not finding the back of the next while Gotham would score from one of the few chances they created. At the beginning of the season, that force field seemed to have deserted them but on Sunday night, it returned with a vengeance. I’m sure Gotham fans would rather not be on edge like that every time their team plays but if gets them to the playoffs, maybe it’ll be worth all that stress.
The league continues to defy expectations
It’s only been six games into the season for some teams (four for others) but even then, I still can’t tell which teams will dominate and which teams will fade away. Some teams are dealing with a grueling schedule and injuries, while other teams are still finding their way with new head coaches and formations.
What that leads to is a week-by-week analysis of every team because their performances can chance that quickly. Just a few days ago, who would’ve thought that Gotham FC would rock up to Los Angeles and find a win against Angel City FC? Who would’ve thought that the Orlando Pride would produce a stunning effort late to win against the Spirit? Did anyone else predict OL Reign’s backline shutting down Alex Morgan especially given her hot start to the season?
These are just some of the storylines that developed over the last few days and it’s making it harder and harder to predict which teams will make the playoffs. Every team has obvious holes in it and I think we may see the top six teams shift around for a little longer before the teams with the right formula start to pull away. For now, we as viewers can only hope that our favourite teams win but also know that on “any given Sunday” the underdog in any match may just pull off an upset.