Five years on and still standing, NWSL entered that fifth season this weekend armed with a new national game of the week on Lifetime, a streaming deal with go90 and a relocated champion as the Western New York Flash has become the North Carolina Courage.
Portland Thorns 2-0 vs. Orlando Pride
(Home teams listed first)
Lifetime and the league wisely selected Portland for the site of its inaugural GOTW and the Rose City did not disappoint, easily topping the league in attendance as 16,145 fans showed up to make the Thorns and the league look good on the big stage.
The Thorns also represented on the field with a 2-0 victory over the Orlando Pride with goals coming from Canadian legend Christine Sinclair and Nadia Nadim. Nadim opened the scoring from the spot in the 32nd minute before Sinclair capped the afternoon with a fine finish after spectacular work from U.S. international Allie Long. Long bullied an Orlando defender off the ball before placing an exquisite pass just beyond her U.S. WNT teammate Ali Krieger where only Sinclair could reach it and it was game over
Houston Dash 2-0 vs. Chicago Red Stars
With Carli Lloyd experiencing her European adventure, and why not, she’s earned the right, Houston took care of business, topping 2016 playoff side Chicago on goals from Kelia Ohai and Rachel Daly on a sweltering Texas afternoon.
For Ohai, it was a case of normal service resumed for a player that tied Lynn Williams (Western NY Flash) for the league goal scoring lead with 11 last season. Ohai’s 15th-minute strike gave the home team the edge and England international Rachel Daly provided the insurance with an 80th-minute beauty.
Washington Spirit 0-1 North Carolina Courage
The league’s 2016 NWSL Finalists and biggest offseason newsmakers faced off at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, Maryland when the relocated 2016 Champions defeated a Washington team that had been stripped bare after pushing Western New York/NC Courage to extra time in that 2016 NWSL Championship game.
It is difficult to imagine a team benefitting from shipping away the likes of Ali Krieger, Diana Matheson, Christine Nairn, and Megan Oyster but coach Jim Gabarra will work with what he has and on Saturday his goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe did all she could to keep the Spirit in its season five opener.
The Canadian international frustrated North Carolina’s vaunted strike duo of Lynn Williams, the 2016 league MVP, and Jessica McDonald but was unable to keep a McCall Zebroni shot out of her net in the 18th minute.
Seattle Reign 1-1 vs. Sky Blue FC
A pair of second-half penalty kicks seven minutes apart accounted for all of the scoring at Seattle’s Memorial Stadium in Saturday’s season opener between the Reign and Sky Blue.
A pair of U.S. internationals were involved in the goals with Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe converting from the spot in the 56th minute after earning the penalty herself, only to see Sarah Killion equalize in the 62nd minute after Rapinoe’s national team running mate Kelley O’Hara drew the foul.
The versatile O’Hara, normally a fullback or a wide midfielder with the U.S. WNT, reverted to her Stanford days and lined out up top Saturday for New Jersey-based Sky Blue.
Easter Sunday featured just one NWSL match with FC Kansas City hosting the Boston Breakers at Children’s Mercy Victory Field.
FC Kansas City 2-0 vs. Boston Breakers.
FCKC welcomed back a lethal forward duo Sunday as Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux both returned after taking 2016 out to have babies and the pair wasted no time proving that they had been missed.
It took just seven minutes for Leroux to open the scoring when she ran onto a perfectly placed long pass from U.S. WNT co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn and finished with a superb first-time effort.
It made for a very nice weekend for the Leroux/Dwyer family, what with Leroux’ husband Dom Dwyer scoring the lone goal in Sporting KC’s 1-0 win at Portland.
ARod added a second FCKC tally finishing off of a superb 1-2 with KC’s third forward Shea Groom in the 48th minute, unfortunately the good feelings did not last as Rodriguez soon departed with what looked like a knee injury.
“She left the game, we don’t know what it is we’re just hoping it’s not as bad as the first impression was,” said FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski after the match in a team press release.
And finally, that new streaming service, Go90 had a few hiccups, which the league was quick to acknowledge and apologize for.