Contributor: NWSL, Seattle Sounders FC, USWNT

By Abigail Gerken @abigailgerken22

Chicago v North Carolina 

Image: NWSL Twitter

Starting XI:

Chicago: Naeher, St. Georges, Ertz, Gorden, Short, Colaprico, Gautrat, DiBernardo, Watt, Hill, Nagasato 

North Carolina: Rowland, Daniels, Erceg, Dahlkemper, Williams, O’Sullivan, Mewis, Debinha, Dunn, Williams, Hamilton

North Carolina came into this game leading the tournament standings and keeping their place as the most intimidating team in the league. Chicago had already suffered a loss and endured a no-goal tie, although the team is flush with talent.

The Red Stars made decisive tactical changes for their meeting with the Courage. Julie Ertz was slotted into the center back position instead of her normal role as a defensive mid. Given her experience, including being a breakout star of the 2015 World Cup as a center back, she was more than equipped to handle the most pressing offense in this league. North Carolina scored 8 goals in the 2019 playoffs alone – and yes there are only semifinals and finals in NWSL. 

The lone goal of the game came in the 81’ when Erceg got her head on a set-piece, finding the back of the net. This was a major disappointment to the Red Stars, after a match of solid play. 

The Chicago backline shined, keeping North Carolina’s offense quiet. This game showed that Julie Ertz is truly world-class, no matter which position she plays. 

Kealia Watt and Bianca St. Georges provided a promising attack as Chicago opted to play out of the back to break North Carolina’s classic high press. Even though Chicago held off NC, with the exception of the set-piece, NC came prepared. Debihna was a crafty 10 as always, creating multiple opportunities for her teammates, while Jalene Daniels flew up the sideline to provide service and depth for the offense.

Another win solidified North Carolina’s place on the top of the standings, and the Courage is the only team to win all three games so far in this tournament. Chicago dropped to the bottom of the standings with one point from the 0-0 draw against Portland. However, it is important to remember that the standings are only for seeding, and as we all know, anything can happen in the playoffs. 

Portland v Washington

Image: NWSL Twitter

Starting XI:

Portland: Bixby, Hubly, Westphal, Menges, Klingenberg, Salem, Horan, Rodríguez, Sinclair, Lussi, Weaver

Washington: Bledsoe, McGrady, Nielsen, Staab, Jacobs, Sullivan, DiBiasi, Feist, Sanchez, Collins, Yokoyama 

Portland certainly displayed their attacking skills in the first half as they flood numbers forward. They defaulted to combinations in their veteran midfield, but also succeed with crosses from out wide. Lindsey Horan once again proved why she is one of the best midfielders in the league by breaking up Washington’s plays and creating opportunities for her forwards.

In the first half-hour, Portland created numerous chances, forcing Spirit goalkeeper Audey Bledsoe to come up big with saves. Post hydration break, it was Washington who had all of the momentum. Their attack was clinical and Bella Bixby was continually tested, with Washington’s Kumi Yokoyama and Ashley Sanchez finding several opportunities on goal. Unfortunately for the Spirit, they were unable to convert.

World Cup Champion Rose Lavelle’s halftime entrance gave the Spirit a fresh burst of energy, which was sorely needed to break down the experienced Portland side. In the 63’ Portland keeper Bixby made a beautiful save to deny Ashley Hatch’s one on one opportunity. Prior to this tournament, Bixby was seen as Portland’s third-string keeper, with her current form she may be the goalkeeper of the tournament. 

In the 69’ Horan put Portland on the board as she scored with an amazing diving header off of a Megan Klingenberg free-kick. However, it did not take Washington very long to answer, in the 77’ Samantha Stabb scored off of a freekick. Rookie forward Ashley Sanchez made the assist as she redirected the initial ball with an incredible backheel volley. 

While this game did not change either Portland or Washington’s standings, it was promising to see rookies Morgan Weaver (Go Cougs!) and Ashley Sanchez shine, creating so many chances for their teams.

Washington is still at 4th place with 4 points, and Portland is in 5th with 2 points. If the playoffs started now, these two teams would face off in the quarterfinals.

Featured image: Chicago Red Stars

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