By MIKE McCALL
Week Two was a light one for the National Women’s Soccer League, but the weekend finished with plenty of intrigue nonetheless.
Two teams were scheduled for byes and two more were sidelined due to the tragic events in Boston, leaving just two matches: a home-opening win over rival Seattle for the Portland Thorns, and a draw between the Washington Spirit and Western New York Flash where both goals came in the final 10 minutes.
One U.S. star got her first NWSL goal in front of a huge crowd, another picked up a health scare, and the league again came away looking like its inaugural season will be one marked by parity, as four of six matches have ended 1-1.
For more, check out our game recaps and NWSL Power Rankings below:
PORTLAND THORNS FC 2-1 SEATTLE REIGN FC
The Thorns couldn’t have asked for much more from their home opener. Expected to set the gold standard for fan support and attacking prowess in NWSL, they did just that. A crowd of 16,479 showed up at Jeld-Wen Field — unsurprisingly a league record, but also more than any Women’s Professional Soccer game (2009-11) and more than all but two MLS games from the weekend.
The masses went home happy, as Portland bested its rivals from the north thanks to goals on either side of the half. Defender Marian Dougherty’s glancing header was just enough to guide a free kick through traffic inside the far post in the 45th minute, and U.S. forward Alex Morgan provided a cushion in the 52nd when she put away a 1-on-1 set up by Canadian captain Christine Sinclair’s steal and well-placed pass.
Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock brought one back in the 74th when she blasted a shot out of a scrum from near the top of the box, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the most potent offensive showing in NWSL history. Okay, so Portland’s two goals weren’t exactly an explosion, and just about everything sets a record at this early stage, but look for more of that from the Thorns as the season goes on.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT 1-1 WESTERN NEW YORK FLASH
While Morgan got to soak up a big win and giant crowd, her U.S. strike partner was seeing stars. Abby Wambach was struck in the face by a ball that left her visibly wounded, although concussion tests came up negative and she hopes to be back in action this week.
That news perhaps overshadowed a dramatic finish in suburban D.C., as the two teams scored within two minutes of each other. Samantha Kerr headed home the opener in the 84th after a ball from Wambach, but the Spirit answered in the 86th. Jasmyne Spencer, whom the club signed just before the season began, earned a penalty that Diana Matheson converted for an equalizer and a welcome sight for the capacity crowd of 4,569 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
FC KANSAS CITY vs. BOSTON BREAKERS (postponed)
Due to increased security measures following the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the league opted to postpone the Breakers’ trip to Kansas City and give the players and staff a chance to remain home during an emotionally trying time for the city.
The impact was felt on both sides as well. FCKC and U.S. midfielder Kristie Mewis, a Massachusetts native who attended the marathon yearly and played her college ball at Boston College, was in touch with BC students and keeping a close, hopeful watch on the week’s developments.
The match has not been rescheduled.
Due to the reduced schedule, there wasn’t much change in the order after Week 2:
1. Portland Thorns FC (1-0-1, 4 pts) – The Thorns earned the top spot this week through on-field display rather than preseason hype. A big home crowd and a Sinclair-to-Morgan goal followed the script perfectly. | (Last week: 1)
2. FC Kansas City (0-0-1, 1 pt) – Had things gone differently last week, it would have been interesting to see if FCKC could repeat its top-notch crowd and performance from the opener. | (2)
3. Sky Blue FC (1-0-0, 3 pts) – Still the holders of the best record of the league, but a trip to D.C. this weekend will put that to the test. | (3)
4. Washington Spirit (0-0-2, 2 pts) – Conceding another late goal is a bit troubling for Washington, which gave up a stoppage-time equalizer to Boston last week, but so far, the Spirit’s plan of leaning on a veteran defense while the young attack matures seems viable. | (4)
5. Boston Breakers (0-0-1, 1 pt) – No change for the Breakers, who had to deal with circumstances far beyond their control. | (5)
6. Western NY Flash (0-1-1, 1 pt) – Encouraging to see some life from the Flash after a disappointing start, but they’ll need to tighten up after giving up a late penalty. Health problems for Wambach would be a major issue as well. | (8)
7. Seattle Reign FC (0-1-1, 1 pt) – Hard to fault Seattle for losing to the league’s top team in such a tough environment — especially without injured goalkeeper Hope Solo — and the Reign at least showed some fight. | (6)
8. Chicago Red Stars (0-0-1, 1 pt) – Chicago is down here for inactivity more than anything else. Not the Red Stars’ fault, and they’ll get a great chance to make a statement this weekend when they host Portland. | (7)