By MIKE McCALL
The opening weekend of the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season is in the books, with draws galore and a surprising result involving an expected title contender.
Three of the four matches ended in a deadlock, with the Boston Breakers earning a point via a stoppage-time equalizer and Sky Blue FC pulling the lone victory of the week with an upset of the Western NY Flash.
Here’s a look at the action from Week 1, followed by our NWSL power poll:
FC Kansas City 1-1 Portland Thorns FC
Well, the Thorns won’t be going 22-0-0 this season, as an early goal gave FC Kansas City a leg up and a result that should solidify their outlook as a title contender. A botched clearance in the 3rd minute left the ball for Kansas City’s Renae Cuellar, who found the net for the first goal in league history and provided a dream start for the over-capacity crowd of 6,784 at Shawnee Mission District Stadium. Portland equalized in the 67th, when Canadian captain Christine Sinclair put away a penalty kick won by Danielle Foxhoven.
(KC: 0-0-1, 1 pt; POR: 0-0-1, 1 pt)
Chicago Red Stars 1-1 Seattle Reign
The visiting Reign jumped out to a quick lead via a 10th minute header by Christine Nairn, but the Red Stars showed there is some life in their attack with an opportunistic goal nine minutes later. Seattle keeper Michelle Betos put in an impressive performance filling in for the injured Hope Solo, but a misplayed clearance set off the sequence that led to the equalizer. Top draft pick Zakiya Bywaters picked off Betos’ pass, then found Ella Masar, who lofted a pass that Lori Chalupny volleyed home.
(CHI: 0-0-1, 1 pt; SEA: 0-0-1, 1 pt)
Sky Blue FC 1-0 Western NY Flash
The trophy-laden Flash did not get off to the kind of start they’d envisioned, as a 42nd-minute own goal made the difference. Western NY had its chances to get even, but Adriana had a penalty saved, and Abby Wambach saw her chip hit the crossbar and had an excellent chance to tie the game in the final minute when she latched onto a loose ball, but she fired high on what proved to be the final opportunity to rescue a point. After holding on, Sky Blue FC is all alone at the top of the league table.
(SBFC: 1-0-0, 3 pts; WNY: 0-1-0, 0 pts)
Boston Breakers 1-1 Washington Spirit
The Spirit’s oft-questioned attack found the first goal, but a stoppage-time slip-up from their vaunted defense cost the D.C. side two points in Boston. Rookie Tiffany McCarty put Washington on the board with a header in the 15th minute, and the Spirit’s back line led by Ali Krieger and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris kept the Breakers quiet until the 91st, when U.S. national teamer Sydney Leroux took off down the left side and placed one into the side netting. It was a fitting result given that the teams were even on shots on goal (seven), saves (six), and corners (two).
(BOS: 0-0-1, 1 pt; WASH: 0-0-1, 1 pt)
Here’s how they stand after Week 1:
1. Portland Thorns FC (0-0-1, 1 pt) – Not the best of starts, but a draw on the road against a worthy opponent isn’t a disaster. Besides, with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair up top, this is still the team to beat.
2. FC Kansas City (0-0-1, 1 pt) – A hard-fought draw with the title favorites in front of a big home crowd? What’s not to like?
3. Sky Blue FC (1-0-0, 3 pts) – By virtue of the result, it’s unfair to put Sky Blue FC any lower than this. They may have caught a few breaks, but a win over the Flash is an impressive way to begin the season.
4. Washington Spirit (0-0-1, 1 pt) – After giving up a stoppage-time equalizer, the Spirit were the next closest team to a win. It bodes well that the young attack produced a goal, albeit against a shaky Boston defense.
5. Boston Breakers (0-0-1, 1 pt) – The Breakers will be hoping that breakaway Sydney Leroux goals are a common occurrence. If they are, Boston might be able to cover for a thin back line.
6. Seattle Reign (0-0-1, 1 pt) – Seattle just needs to get through the opening part of the season. Once goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Megan Rapinoe are on board, watch out.
7. Chicago Red Stars (0-0-1, 1 pt) – This middle pack is really an interchangeable group for now, and it’s a positive to see No. 1 draft pick Zakiya Bywaters contribute on the franchise’s first goal.
8. Western NY Flash (0-1-0, 0 pts) – They lost, and thus, they must be last. But don’t expect to see them down here for long — and don’t expect Abby Wambach to make a habit of missing late chances like she did Sunday.