Three draws put Courage top East and OL Reign top West – Equalizer Soccer




Photo credit Lewis Gettier for The Equalizer

The final weekend of NWSL Challenge Cup group matches kicked off on Saturday, with many big implications regarding who will advance to the semi-finals of the competition.

North Carolina Courage 2, Washington Spirit 2

Lean: This end-to-end match to decide the winner of the Eastern Division was entertaining, perfect for showing on the main CBS channel. The Spirit needed a win to automatically advance and looked good early on, scoring the opener. But as the Courage midfielder got more involved, he rose to the top. Washington managed to equalize late on the third penalty call of the night (the first two went to Courage), but the draw wasn’t enough. As a result, the Spirit will have to wait for the rest of the splits to shake off to determine if they will succeed as the second seed.

A Key Moment: This strike from Malia Berkely is not only stunning, but it was also her first NWSL goal and the count that earned Courage the draw and subsequent advancement.

Inside the game: Alright, buckle up because it was a hell of a game. It’s fair to say that despite losing some very important starters in Sam Staab and Andi Sullivan, the Spirit came out of the gate hot and on the best side. Both teams are rushed and like to force turnovers when their opponent tries to play from the back, and this game was no different. This tactic first benefited Washington when Ashley Hatch pounced on a poor distribution from Courage keeper and calmly finished for the first goal.

After scoring in Game 1, Washington faded somewhat, keeping its numbers further back and not pushing as hard offensively. Trinity Rodman in particular was doing a lot of defensive work when they would have liked to have him up top to take the pressure off. Twenty-five minutes later, they lost another veteran presence on the pitch when Kelley O’Hara came off as a precaution against a strained hamstring. That being said, Courage played well and grew to control the game with their own high pressure and midfield play. In her first NWSL start, Kerolin wreaked havoc, including getting the first-half penalty that tied the game, and as she continues to get to know the team, I feel that she will get even better. Debinha converted the penalty earned by her compatriot to show North Carolina’s resurgence in the game on the scoreboard.

After the half-time break, Courage came out firing and were able to take the lead thanks to Berkely’s terrific goal. They had a chance to double their advantage when Kerolin earned another penalty in the 72nd minute, but Debinha’s shot was saved this time by Aubrey Kingsbury.

Just three minutes later, Rodman won the third PK of the night, Washington’s first, when Katelyn Rowland came out of her net and missed the ball but collided with Rodman. The Spirit’s all-time leading scorer further cemented her place at the top with her second goal of the night converting the spot kick. Courage made a few sloppy mistakes after that that could have cost them the game, but in the end they managed to hold on to the point that earned them the advancement.

The goals:

  1. The Spirit of Washington — Ashley Hatch15′
  2. NC Courage — Debinha (PK), 45’+4′
  3. NC Courage — Malia Berkely, 52′
  4. The Spirit of Washington — Ashley Hatch (PK), 75′

—Bella Munson

San Diego Wave 1, OL Reign 1

Lean: This match was the epitome of NWSL After Dark. We didn’t get to see Ally Watt’s opener and her first professional goal, but we did see her get called for a handball that may or may not have happened. Either way, that handball gave San Diego the PK that tied the score in the first half. And it got crispier from there.

A Key Moment: There’s no way to avoid talking about it, the stream was a mess. There was no feed for the first twenty minutes, which meant we all missed that incredibly important streak 13 minutes later. Then when there was a feed, the quality was low and there was a good chunk of the near sideline that for some reason couldn’t be filmed at all. And don’t forget when the production team cut the stoppage time table instead of showing OL Reign threatening in the penalty area from a free kick. Simply put, this is unacceptable production quality for a professional sports league trying to be taken seriously. But please enjoy Ally Watt’s first professional goal because she seriously deserved it after almost two years of rehabilitation from an ACL injury that occurred 13 minutes into her professional debut in 2020.

Inside the game: So I can’t tell you much about the first twenty minutes of the game because of the lack of stream mentioned above. Apart from Watt’s goal, we know that Kailen Sheridan received a yellow card for Bethany Balcer’s very poor tackle as she assisted the first goal. I also know that several players fell because of tackles from the start and that some players felt from the start of the game that the referee had no control. Balcer was the hardest hit, and more often than not, so had to be substituted just before the half-time whistle, which could be a concern for the reign, although there was no no post-game update on the injury.

Now let’s talk about the gameplay we saw. Under Casey Stoney, the wave is a team that wants to build from the back all the way to third. Whereas the Reign are a team that like to press high and force turnovers, like they did when they forced first base. That press was pretty stifling at times for San Diego who struggled to keep the ball but found some success with long balls over the top and when their fullbacks pushed higher up the field. Towards the end of first half stoppage time, the Wave were awarded a penalty which was later converted by Alex Morgan. The kick was taken well but the call leading up to it is unclear. Handball was called on Watt who said after the game the ball hit his face, and watching the replay it’s a questionable call. All credit goes to San Diego who fought hard and created good chances, probably even earning a goal, but reffing in this league continues to be questioned and both teams expressed their issues after the game. .

The second half saw the tie hold but there was still plenty of drama. Kelsey Turnbow was shown a yellow card 69′, which her head coach disagreed with, then ten minutes later she was shown a second yellow card. The challenge was very late and deserved a card, but maybe also the game should have been stopped when the ball hit the referee. It’s a gray area in the rules, but either way it left the wave to close out the match with ten players.

Although they lost a player, the home team played very well and even looked like the better team as the reign squatted, looking for the tie that would see them win the division. This game was mostly chaotic, but in the end OL Reign clinched the top seed in the West and San Diego put on a solid performance after their beating in Seattle.

The goals:

  1. OL Reign — Ally Watt (Bethany Balcer), 13′
  2. San Diego Wave — Alex Morgan, 45’+1′

—Bella Munson

NJNY Gotham FC 1, Orlando Pride 1

Lean: Although Gotham looked to be in control in the second half on Saturday at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, they couldn’t earn the win against visiting Orlando Pride and the points were tied.

A Key Moment: Pride goalkeeper Kaylie Collins stopped the game in the 78th minute to deny Gotham the three points. While the home side gave Orlando hell throughout the second half, Collins did plenty of times, most notably with that fantastic diving reaction to a Kristie Mewis flick.

Inside the game: Gunny Jónsdóttir’s tenth-minute goal gave Pride their first NWSL Challenge Cup lead on Saturday. But that didn’t last long, as Toni Pressley beat Ifeoma Onumonu in the box just over half an hour later, and the referee (rightly so) pointed the spot. Mewis’ calmly taken penalty served as an equalizer and the momentum swung in Gotham’s favour.

Gotham had every opportunity to take the lead in the second 45′ but couldn’t find the back of the net. Their long list of chances included a shot from Kumi Yokoyama that was deflected, the aforementioned Collins save on Mewis, a crossbar from Paige Monaghan and a late last chance from Mewis that went through the mouth of the goal but stayed inside. ‘difference. But Pride – to their credit – weathered the storm and had a moment or two where they nearly stole the game. Most notably, goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris managed a set piece after the hour mark to prevent Kerry Abello’s shot in front of goal.

With the draw, Orlando ends its four-game losing streak, while – although it has little to show for its efforts – Gotham should come away satisfied with its second half, which was its best in the Challenge Cup.

The goals:

  1. Orlando Pride — Gunny Jonsdottir (Angharad James), 10′
  2. NJNY Gotham FC—Kristie Mewis (PK), 45’+1′

-Emily Dulhanty



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