NWSL Weekend: North Carolina re-takes first place, attendance goes up

NWSL Sky Blue
PISCATAWAY, NJ — JULY 12: Players of Sky Blue FC celebrate their victory after a late goal from Jen Joy during the NWSL soccer match between Sky Blue FC and Utah Royals at Yurcak Field on July 12, 2019 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Daniela Porcelli/Getty Images).

Cary, North Carolina (July 15, 2019) — After two months of preparing for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the attention in women’s soccer is back on the NWSL. Looking to build off of the success and hype from the World Cup, the NWSL saw increases in attendance throughout all four matches this weekend.

While teams aren’t getting numbers like the Portland Thorns, there were increases from previous averages. One of the better average increases happened at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. The North Carolina Courage compiled 6,216 fans into the seats. Previously, the Courage had an average of 4,907 fans.

The other averages can be found here, courtesy of Steven Goff.

North Carolina supplied those home fans with a win, too, over Reign FC. Lynn Williams and Debinha — who featured for the Brazilian Women’s National Team at the World Cup — found the back of Casey Murphy’s net. The contest was a battle of the top two teams in the league, with North Carolina jumping up to first place.

It’s a familiar spot for the Courage. They held first place throughout the entirety of last season, only losing one match in all regular-season appearances. Speaking to reporters after the match, Courage head coach Paul Riley said that his lineup is doing well. Riley has been witness to a fantastic run from Kristen Hamilton. She has stepped up with international players out, scoring seven goals and assisting two.

“Hamilton had another really good game,” Riley said. “Lynn Williams has hit some great form right now and Debinha has been special.”

North Carolina currently sits in first place with 22 points. Hot on their heels is the Portland Thorns FC, who have 22 points.

Sky Blue gathers another win against Utah

Down the mighty fall.

Sky Blue FC hasn’t won back-to-back matches in the NWSL since August 2017. However, that changed for the team that currently doesn’t have a head coach. After Denise Reddy was fired by the club, the team has relied on assistant coaches to call the shots. However, the players are finding their rhythm on the pitch and working together.

It showed when they kept the Utah Royals FC scoreless on Friday night. However, goal-scorers are normally the heroes of matches. Jen Hoy was the heroine for the New Jersey club. Her goal was the second in two matches, as she also scored the game-winner against the Chicago Red Stars last weekend.

Hoy’s goal came in the 90’+2′ minute, early in stoppage time. After the match, Hoy said that she and her teammates are playing freely and “allowing their best qualities to shine through” in the NWSL.

“We all just believe in each other one-hundred percent, not like we didn’t before, but we are taking it to a whole new level,” Hoy said. “I know energetically I can feel it out there, I think everyone can feel it from all of us to the fans.”

Kailen Sheridan, who went to France with Canada for the World Cup, was rarely busy, making one save. She stopped former U.S. Women’s National Team striker Amy Rodriguez. Meanwhile, Nicole Barnhart was forced to make three saves against Erica Skroski, Elizabeth Eddy and Raquel Rodríguez.

Sky Blue is still at the bottom of the NWSL table, but have eight points. Right above them, also with eight points, is the Orlando Pride. If Sky Blue FC can finish out of last place, that will be considered progress.

Houston Dash falter against Chicago Red Stars

It was announced as a sell-out crowd, but only 5,327 fans were counted at BBVA Stadium. However, the stadium’s capacity is listed at 22,039.

That’s the least of concerns for the Houston Dash. Once in a playoff spot a couple weeks ago, the Dash are now down to seventh place. They’re under the leadership of James Clarkson, who coached throughout the Dash and Houston Dynamo academy.

The Dash let another three points slip away on Saturday, as Katie Johnson scored an early game-winning goal for Chicago. Johnson is part of the Mexican Women’s National Team and was formerly a Sky Blue FC player. This is her first year in Chicago and her goal against Houston was her first in a Red Stars uniform.

After the match, Rory James was happy for Johnson to score the goal, but even more impressed by her defensive duties.

“… That’s one of the areas we’ve really been addressing with her,” Dames said. “She’s used to being in the nine, so she’s usually taking the role that Sam [Kerr] takes a little bit, so trying to get her to change her mentality, change her habits to do what the team needs, and she’s been great about it. I thought she came in last week in the second half and had her best run of the season for us, and then came on tonight and scored a great finish on the goal.”

Meanwhile, Clarkson kept his remarks simple, calling the loss disappointing.

“Another individual error cost us the goal, and we haven’t responded and done enough to win the game,” he said. “They didn’t create anything after the goal and it’s really disappointing. It’s another home loss and we should be winning these games. We should be much harder to fair up the table.”

Portland, Orlando go back and forth

If you went to get a snack during the Portland Thorns FC and Orlando Pride match on Sunday, you likely missed out on a goal or two. This match was the first to air as part of the league’s deal with ESPN. Portland and Orlando kicked off a 14-game viewership through the powerhouse sports network.

Needless to say, it didn’t disappoint.

Orlando has struggled this season and Portland is certainly missing some national team stars. However, Christine Sinclair was looking to prove her fans that finding the back of the net is not foreign to her. She struggled at the World Cup. However, she responded by scoring in the 67th minute.

Her goal was one of three that happened within eight minutes of each other. Orlando and Portland bounced back and forth, finding the back of each other’s net. Some goals were pretty, while others were downright ugly.

Despite the loss, Pride head coach Marc Skinner said he was proud of his player’s attacking sense.

“I thought we came into an arena of quite a few people and, for the second half, dictated the game; we dictated the tempo,” Skinner said. “But again, as I’ve said last week, we can’t keep conceding the goals that we’ve been conceding. They’re individual errors and that, for me, is something that I will stamp out in the future.”

Portland hosted a crowd of 18,909 at Providence Park.

 

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