A long, difficult off-season finally came to its natural conclusion this weekend as the NWSL regular season began with a full slate of just four games.
Forgotten for at least one day, perhaps, was a close season scarred by the dissolution of the Boston Breakers franchise with no new expansion franchises coming online to take Boston’s place.
The league still has not landed a commissioner, although General Manager Amanda Duffy remains the public face of the league in much the same way a commissioner would.
We also saw players orchestrating trades to their hometowns, Carli Lloyd, and for family reasons, Sydney Leroux. Hardly the sort of thing that screams big-time professional sports.
And then hanging over everything, unignorable even on opening day was the Christian Press mess. Traded from Chicago to Houston, Press said, um heck no, I won’t go, scotching what had been presented as a done deal.
Duffy had stated that the league was working on finding a landing spot within the league for Press but today the USWNT attacker ended that prospect, for now, with a tweet.
North Carolina Courage 1-0 vs Portland Thorns
It won’t take away the still lingering disappointment of last October’s Championship match loss to this same opponent but it was still a nice way for the NC Courage to open the new campaign after such a long off-season.
The home team may have been advantaged by the fact that the Thorns were missing six players, including U.S. international Tobin Heath but the Courage made the most of Portland’s misfortune despite doing without their own USWNT star Sam Mewis.
North Carolina dominated possession in front of 4,210 fans at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Park but was only able to put one shot past Adrianna Franch, the 2017 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year who somehow continues to be left out by USWNT coach Jill Ellis.
The lone goal of the match came in the 70th minute and it was an absolute beaut off the boot of Debinha on an assist from Denise O’Sullivan.
The match also was an NWSL homecoming for Crystal Dunn. Dunn spent last season with Chelsea before returning to the league with North Carolina after her rights were traded from the Washington Spirit.
Orlando Pride 1-1 vs Utah Royals
It didn’t take long for Gunnhildur Yrsa Jónsdóttir to put her name in the NWSL history books as the scorer of the first goal in the history of the Utah Royals, just three minutes in fact.
Jónsdóttir slipped behind an Orlando defense that was a bit slow to realize that the season had begun and expertly applied the finish to Diana Matheson’s inch-perfect long ball to give the new* club its first lead.
The lead did not last all that long with Orlando equalizing in a controversial manner through a Marta penalty kick after Becky Sauerbrunn had been called for a deliberate handball and issued a yellow card in addition to surrendering the pk.
The game was the first for Sydney Leroux with Orlando and coach Tom Sermanni wasted no time in fitting the sometime U.S. international into the lineup alongside Orlando’s twin superstar strikers, Brazil’s Marta and USWNT’s Alex Morgan.
The trio didn’t light up the scoreboard in the opener but keeping the lid on the Orlando attack should cause many a sleepless night for opposing NWSL coaches and defenders alike in the coming weeks and months.
*FC Kansas City folded and the rights to those players went to the new franchise in Utah.
Seattle Reign 2-1 vs Washington Spirit
It was the Megan Rapinoe Show at UW Medicine Park at Memorial Stadium on Saturday when the USWNT star scored one goal for the Reign and set up Jodie Taylor for the second as Seattle treated the home fans to an opening match victory.
Pinoe was all over the stat sheet taking 11 shots, with six on goal and creating 2 chances with 85 total touches. Statistics can, of course, tell many stories and sometimes none at all but this was not the case Saturday in Seattle when the numbers and the eye test told a similar tale.
Trailing 2-0 at the half Washington made a game of it when Joanna Lohman scored in the 68th minute in her first action since she tore her ACL on day one of the 2017 campaign.
Washington fans had their first chance to see the 2018 NWSL College Draft overall number one pick in action as USWNT midfielder Andi Sullivan went the full 90 in her NWSL debut.
Houston Dash 1-1 vs Chicago Red Stars
In an interesting scheduling quirk, the Chicago Red Stars visited the Houston Dash to kick off the 2018 season. Yes, the two clubs involved in the embarrassing Christen Press deal were matched up on opening day with Press nowhere in sight.
Press wasn’t the only prominent player MIA on Saturday, with Chicago hard hit by the injury bug to the tune of being forced to manage without six key players.
2017 NWSL MVP Sam Kerr, who arrived from Sky Blue in exchange for Carli Lloyd, is on international duty for Australia while five more players, including 2017 U.S Soccer Female Player of the Year Julie Ertz, were unavailable through injury.
With all that to consider Houston’s new coach Vera Pauw will count herself a bit unlucky to have come away with just one point, especially given that the Red Stars goal came in stoppage time.