NWSL Results: Balcer brace defeats Kansas City; Gotham hold Thorns scoreless; Chicago tops Houston on own goals

NWSL Results: Balcer brace defeats Kansas City; Gotham hold Thorns scoreless; Chicago tops Houston on own goals

OL Reign 2, Kansas City 0

The Skinny: On a busy day filled with soccer Kansas City visited Tacoma searching for their first ever win but fell to Bethany Balcer’s brace. The first half was probably the best 45 minutes we have seen from the Reign this season. Head coach Sam Laity said they were looking to score early and employ a full team press high up the pitch, they did both and opened the scoring in only the third minute when Balcer intercepted a bad pass from goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart and slotted it calmly into the back of the net. There was a clear lack of communication among the Kansas defenders and keeper that nearly cost them another early goal. Kansas City cleaned up their act but the home team were playing very well and should’ve scored a couple more. That success came from their togetherness and willingness to work for each other, making runs to get open and find spaces they hadn’t previously. Balcer would score again a half hour in but this time heading in a cross from Sofia Huerta. 

At halftime, Kansas City brought Kiki Pickett into the backline, bringing some needed energy and grit into the outside back position. The visitors were playing their way into the game as the energy Reign’s energy began to dwindle and they forced some saves from close range. The most dramatic moment came 70’ when Sarah Bouhaddi was issued a red card for fouling just outside the box on a one on one goalscoring opportunity. Up until that point the French keeper had played one of her best matches this season, making a couple difficult saves. Backup keeper Ella Dederick was subbed on for Tziarra King. From that point on the Reign had to play with only 10 and things devolved somewhat as the match got heated and yellow cards were issued. They made four subs ten minutes later to shift into a five back, essentially inserting Amber Brooks between the two centerbacks and putting Kristen McNabb at outside back for the already cautioned Lauren Barnes. Dederick did what she needed to do and in the end the plan worked, they were able to protect their lead, earn the win, and the clean sheet.

One Key Moment: This is the form fans have been looking for from the 2019 Rookie of the Year and she performed fantastically tonight. Her work rate to get back and defend was critical to their success, oh and she also scored her first ever NWSL career brace. This second goal of hers was a powerful, well directed header, off a perfect one time ball from Sofia Huerta, who also had an overall great performance.

Inside the Game: Reign earned only their third clean sheet of the season today and it is a true testament to the full team performance they put in. After the match Balcer and Sam Hiatt spoke about how Laity has done a good job of unifying the team, reminding them of their core values and how they want to play. The energy and mentality they showed today is the result of that. They could have been more ruthless offensively but the defensive effort of the players not on the backline made a huge difference. They were able to shut down Kansas City’s offense before it really began with their commitment to the press, severely limiting the effect Amy Rodriguez was able to have on the game. Of note, the Reign transitioned into a five back that they had never practiced before, looking to force KC wide as they had numbers centrally to handle crosses. For a last second plan it was executed well. For Kansas City, their troubles remain on both sides of the ball. Despite being up a player and controlling a lot of second half possession they weren’t able to get good clean looks on goal when they had already had defensive mishaps resulting in goals conceded. Individual players for KC looked dangerous, but the whole has yet to click.

The Goals:

  1. OL Reign — Bethany Balcer, 3′
  2. OL Reign — Bethany Balcer (Sofia Huerta), 29′

— Bella Munson

Portland Thorns 0, NJ/NY Gotham FC 0

The Skinny: The Thorns came out flying on Sunday afternoon in the first match back at Providence Park with the stands at full capacity. The first half was dominated by the home team, who had numerous dangerous chances on goal, while Gotham struggled to hang onto the ball long enough to relieve the pressure. Gotham keeper DiDi Haracic kept her side in the game, along with some help from her defenders, as the ball was saved off Gotham’s goal line not once but twice in the half. While Portland was the better side in the second half too, Gotham finally were able to settle in and have a few chances of their own. Shortly after making her NWSL debut, Gaëtane Thiney forced a diving save out of Thorns keeper Bella Bixby in the 73rd minute. And minutes later, Ifeoma Onumonu’s header hit the post for Gotham’s best chance of the match.

One Key Moment: Portland’s best chance of the game came in the 27th minute. Gotham couldn’t keep possession in the attack, and the ball fell to Portland’s Marissa Everett, who delivered a perfect pass through Gotham’s centre backs to Morgan Weaver, who held her run well. Weaver got in behind and went one-on-one with Haracic, but Haracic was able to get just enough on her shot to slow the ball as it headed for the goal line. And Estelle Johnson, arriving just in time, cleared the ball off the goal line to keep the clean sheet alive. 

Inside the Game: After dominating the first 45 and much of the second, the Thorns will be disappointed to come away from this one with just one point. With 22 shots, six of them on goal, the chances were certainly there. With the draw, the Thorns are in a three-way tie for first place on points, along with the Courage and the Pride. As for Gotham, aside from a nervy mistake in the third minute, Haracic was more than up to the task on Sunday. Sitting in fifth place now, Gotham have conceded just three goals this season – an incredible feat for having played eight games so far. Johnson, who made one of the crucial goal line saves, had a fantastic match, and bypassed 10,000 total NWSL minutes played during the match.

Chicago Red Stars 2, Houston Dash 1

The Skinny: Talk about chaos! The Chicago Red Stars notched their second-straight win of 2021 after topping the Houston Dash at home. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Red Stars, who had trouble finishing in the attack. We’ll get to that in a minute, under “Inside the Game.” Houston got on the board first, courtesy of Veronica Latsko. However, it was a speedy, and long, run from Jasmyne Spencer that set up the goal. However, Chicago took the lead later in the match, with two own goals coming from Shea Groom and captain Katie Naughton, a former Chicago Red Stars defender. Chicago has now won two matches in a row after an unusually slow start to the season.

One Key Moment: The summer of own goals continues to be truly chaotic. The own goal from Groom wasn’t necessarily the worst-looking own goal on the planet. In fact, on a set piece in crowded traffic, it didn’t even look like Groom hit the ball at first glance. However, Naughton’s own goal was clear and obvious, borrowing a term from VAR. Naughton neglected to let backup goalkeeper Lindsey Harris collect the ball, which would have been a fairly easy grab. Houston could have escaped a point at least, but the second own goal left the Dash with none.

Inside the Game: Picture the scenario. A team does not register a single shot on goal, but yet wins and takes home three points after a 2-1 victory. The Chicago Red Stars did not tally a single shot on goal at Dash goalkeeper Harris, starting Kealia Watt, Vanessa DiBernardo and Mallory Pugh up top, with some help from Makenzy Doniak and later, as a substitute, Katie Johnson. Chicago’s lack of attack has been on display for 2021. Luckily for the Red Stars at home, chaotic own goals were on their side.

The Goals

  1. Houston Dash — Veronica Latsko (Jasmyne Spencer), 62′
  2. Chicago Red Stars — Shea Groom (OG), 73′
  3. Chicago Red Stars — Katie Naughton (OG), 76′

Rachael Kriger