NWSL: Attendance skyrockets for matches across the league

NWSL Red Stars
Bridgeview, IL — JULY 21: Chicago Red Stars midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo (10) celebrates her goal with Chicago Red Stars forward Sam Kerr (20) and teammates in game action during a NWSL game between the Chicago Red Stars and the North Carolina Courage on July 21, 2019 at SeatGeek Stadium, in Bridgeview, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Bridgeview, Illinois (July 22, 2019) — SeatGeek Stadium has been home to the Chicago Red Stars for quite a while now. However, the stadium has never held as many fans as it held for a Red Stars match Sunday afternoon. Attendance boomed throughout the NWSL this weekend.

Chicago hosted the North Carolina Courage for a rivalry match, which was viewed by 17,388 fans inside the stadium. Meanwhile, more fans got to catch the action. The match was aired on ESPN2, as part of the league’s 14-match deal with ESPN.

Chicago captured three valuable points with goals from Vanessa DiBernardo and Australian international Sam Kerr. However, North Carolina did end up striking first, with Lynn Williams finding the back of the net in the 30th minute. Seven minutes later, DiBernardo found the back of Stephanie Labbé’s net.

DiBernardo had runners in the box, but weaved through defenders to blast her shot on goal. Meanwhile, Kerr notched the game-winning goal and her fourth since returning from the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Kerr also leads the league in goals, scoring 10 this season. She won the Golden Boot last year with 16 tallies.

After the match, Morgan Brian said to reporters that a movement is happening in growing the NWSL.

‘‘I think you’re seeing a movement,’’ Brian said to the Chicago Sun Times. ‘‘Women’s soccer is here to stay. Obviously, the World Cup is a huge bump… I think now it’s about putting a great product on the field and making [fans] see it’s a great product.’’

Even the opposition applauded the showing of more than 17,000 fans.

‘‘Coming out to a game is a huge step,’’ Sam Mewis of the Courage said. ‘‘I think you can buy season tickets. You can support on social media. If you’re not near a local team, now that we have a deal with ESPN, you can watch every game.’’

Utah brings large crowd against Thorns

Nail-biting games are also a way to drive attention to the league. That happened on Friday night with an intense 2-2 draw between the Utah Royals FC and Portland Thorns. A crowd of 15,931 piled into the seats of Rio Tinto Stadium to watch their favorite players.

Fresh off winning another World Cup title, Christen Press put on a clinic. Reunited with striker Amy Rodriguez, Press found the back of the net in the 43rd minute. She nutmegged Thorns defender Elizabeth Ball, and then slipped her shot past her USWNT teammate Adrianna Franch.

After the match, Press said that she took advantage of weak side space.

“It was great to have that ball played so I could exploit that space,” Press said. “I think when I got all the way to the end, I think there was a moment where the other team thought I was going to cross it and so they came out a little bit and I was able to get in the back of the net.”

However, Portland found the back of the net first. Christine Sinclair, the Canadian international, scored off a volley in the 9th minute. Portland grabbed one back with just minutes left in the match, as Lindsey Horan scored in the 87th minute. It looked like three points would head back to Providence Park. However, Rachel Corsie had other plans.

Corsie scored in the 90th minute, leveling the score.

“I think that we felt the goal that we lost just before was really harsh,” Corsie said afterward. “I think you can see by reaction that when you have five minutes, give everything to get something and, set pieces are a big opportunity for us to get forward and have our bigger players in the box… It’s these important moments that can you can remember at the end of the season and hopefully they count towards us making that top four.”

Houston brings the heat in Boyds against Spirit

Too hot? Not for the Houston Dash.

That 100-degree weather is something that they’re used to down in Texas. The heat didn’t bother the Dash, as they picked up three important NWSL points against the Washington Spirit.

Mallory Pugh was back for Washington, but not Rose Lavelle. Pugh had a chance to bury a penalty kick attempt, but Jane Campbell smothered it, like she’s done all season. It’s her fourth penalty save of the season.

After the match, Campbell said she was just happy to give her side a good chance of winning.

“Obviously, in the run of play, it’s only one save,” Campbell said. ” My very first thought was that it was a very bad call. I just didn’t really see the foul, so I could be just saying smack. I just thought, ‘Man, another one?.’ But, I felt like we had just scored. I don’t really know the time difference between the last goal and the penalty kick, but it felt like everything kind of just piled off against us again after taking the lead.”

Neither side scored in the first half, in front of 5,500 fans. However, Jordan DiBiasi plowed through the Dash defense to smack a header goal behind Campbell in the 52nd minute. Washington didn’t keep the lead long, though. Four minutes later, Kristie Mewis scored off a perfectly placed ball by Sofia Huerta.

Houston’s game-winning goal came from defender Amber Brooks in the 72nd minute.

“Tonight was a must-win for us,” Brooks said after the match. “We all knew that. Otherwise, the gap was going to get too big, especially with three games in eight days. To pick up a win on the road is really great for us.”

Orlando notch win, but still remain in eighth

Marisa Viggiano is one of two rookies this season for the Orlando Pride.

She’s gotten a decent amount of time in the NWSL. Viggiano has started in five out of her nine appearances this season, totaling 458 minutes. She scored her first-ever professional goal on Saturday night, dodging defenders and taking a shot outside of the box. She had Marta in the box, but elected to go for it herself.

Viggiano’s goal came in the 23rd minute, in front of 9,415 fans. After the match, she said that she’s learning every single day from her “incredible” teammates.

“I just want to come into practice every day, give it my all when I get my opportunity to step up, so that’s I feel like where I’m at right now,” Viggiano said. “Just keep working and keep learning, keep growing, taking it day by day.”

Meanwhile, head coach Marc Skinner had plenty of praise for the rookie out of Northwestern. Skinner said one of her best attributes is finding space.

“She is a space finder, so she picks up pockets,” Skinner said. “… I think on the ball she has lots and lots of quality and believe it or not for such a small player she has good power in her legs. I’m really pleased with her, and I’m really pleased with all of them because we have international players with really high quality but you know, I challenged the kids to step up and be part of the team, so I think she was excellent tonight.”

Orlando’s three points still keeps them in eighth place. They’ll likely not compete for a playoff spot, but are improving instead of losing each match. Orlando has spent the month fo July totaling two wins and one loss.

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