NWSL opening weekend takeaways: Alex Morgan is back, the Thorns are rolling and more

The National Women’s Soccer League kicked off its regular season over the weekend. Two new teams went head to head, and the weekend closed out with a five-goal performance from the 2021 Challenge Cup champions. Here’s what you may have missed from the five-game slate over the weekend.

1. New franchises still on hunt for first win

Racing Louisville FC (a new expansion team) and Kansas City NWSL (who relocated from Utah this offseason) kicked off the regular season for NWSL in Kentucky at Lynn Family Stadium in a scoreless draw. The two teams are still searching for their first franchise win after failing to pick up a win during the 2021 Challenge Cup. 

Louisville got off on the front foot during the first half of the match, taking the game to the visiting Kansas City, but the team was unable to take advantage of the time in the final third and recorded only one shot on target ahead of halftime. Louisville continued to apply more pressure against the opposition but strong play from Kansas City midfielders Desiree Scott and Victoria Pickett helped alleviate the tempo. 

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Both sides were fairly even in spending time in their respective final third, with Louisville ultimately exchanging 13 shots to Kansas City’s 11, but questionable shot selection lead to a scoreless draw as the two teams split the points to begin the regular season. 

2. Alex Morgan scores first NWSL goal since 2018

Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride played to a 1-1 draw at Exploria Stadium in Orlando on Sunday. Spirit forwards Ashley Sanchez and Trinity Rodman provided quick looks in the final third early as rookie Trinity Rodman got into space in the box and crossed over her defender to get a clean look on goal, but was denied by Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

Sydney Leroux got a good opportunity in front of goal as well but the two sides carried a scoreless draw into halftime. Spirit forward Ashley Hatch broke the deadlock in the 75th minute, and with the win in Washington’s sights, Alex Morgan stuck the equalizer in the 84th minute for the Pride. It was the USWNT star’s first NWSL goal since 2018.

3. OL Reign and Courage have room to improve

OL Reign hosted North Carolina Courage at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma, Washington on Saturday and the the two sides played to a scoreless draw.

The clean sheet is a possibly a welcomed silver lining for a North Carolina as they welcomed back their captain from injury in  New Zealand international Abby Erceg. Erceg nearly broke open the goalscoring in the second minute with a shot off the crossbar, but her presence on the backline was sorely missed for a Courage side that conceded eight goals in four matches during the Challenge Cup.

OL Reign continue to look impressive in their continued time together under second-year head coach Farid Benstiti. Leah Pruitt and Jess Fishlock had strong individual performances for the team, though the goals didn’t come despite looking dangerous in the opposition’s half. 

Both sides shared the points to open the regular season, and each club will welcome premier talent to their teams as Sam Mewis (Courage) and Rose Lavelle (OL Reign) both return to NWSL from Manchester City.

4. Midge Purce is Gotham’s hero

Gotham FC hosted Houston Dash to kick off their regular season on Saturday. Midge Purce scored the lone goal in a 1-0 victory for Gotham.

Gotham also welcomed the return of their starting goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, who made four saves in her return from injury. Gotham maintained the clean sheet despite the Dash attempting 29 crosses and taking 21 shots, The match was a physical battle between the two sides, as six yellow cards were issued throughout the match, with Houston earning four of them. 

5. Portland stomps the Red Stars

There’s no post-celebration hangover for Portland Thorns FC as they continue to look dominant after their Challenge Cup championship. The Thorns kicked off their regular season against Chicago Red Stars at home on Saturday and put up four goals over the struggling Red Stars before halftime. Sophia Smith caused chaos in the box for an own goal off Tierna Davidson in the fourth minute, and extended the lead to four with her second goal in the 30th minute.

Chicago hasn’t won a regular-season match since their semifinal victory in 2019. After making the 2020 Challenge Cup final and losing to Houston Dash, the team went picked up two losses and two draws during the 2021 Challenge Cup. The club is still on the hunt for its first win in 2021.

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