Week 16 featured two mid-week matches with playoff implications and three weekend games. Boston hosted Kansas City and Chicago visited Seattle, with Boston and Chicago looking to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Portland hosted Chicago in Week 16’s NWSL Match of the Week on Fox Soccer Channel and fans were treated to a wild affair out at JELD-WEN Field. Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City waited nearly two hours beyond the original kickoff time to start their match after severe weather moved through the area. Washington was looking to get in the win column when they travelled to Boston.
July 24: FC Kansas City Rolls Past Boston Breakers 3-0 (FINAL: 3-0 FC Kansas City)
FC Kansas City extended their unbeaten streak to eight matches with a 3-0 win over the Boston Breakers. The match was a make-up game from April 21 when the Breakers were unable to get out of Boston following the hunt for the Boston Marathon Bombing suspect.
An own goal by Breakers defender Kia McNeil broke the scoreless draw in the 72nd minute, giving Kansas City a 1-0 lead. Merritt Mathias looked to play a ball to the far post before the ball deflected off McNeil and past Ashley Phillips.
The Blues would get a pair of late goals to extend their lead. Lauren Holiday put a cross in for former UNC product Courtney Jones. Jones tapped a shot past Phillips for the insurance goal in the 85th minute.
Holiday would be involved in the team’s third goal as well. With her back to goal, the United States midfielder flicked a pass to Mathias. She turned and chipped the ball over Phillips for the 3-0 advantage in the 90th minute.
Sydney Leroux had the best opportunity for Boston in the first half when she saw her shot go just past the far post.
- Boston playoff implications: The Breakers are still on the cusp of the playoff picture, but the loss does make that picture get a little further away.
- Lauren Holiday: The US midfielder is a front runner for the NWSL MVP award with her performance thus far. She may not have scored but she racked up two assists, bringing her season total to nine to go with her ten goals thus far, both of which are at the top of the league.
July 25: Reign Downs Chicago to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive (FINAL: 4-1 Seattle)
The Seattle Reign are determined to make the playoff race interesting. After an 0-9-2 start, the Reign have gone on a tear, winning five of their last seven matches.
Megan Rapinoe, who has been one of the big reasons for the Reign’s success, tallied a brace as the Reign topped the Chicago Red Stars 4-1 at Starfire Stadium.
The Reign got the early lead, with Rapinoe finding the back of the net in just the sixth minute. Adriana Leon fouled Jessica Fishlock just outside the box and the resulting free kick would be Rapinoe’s to strike, The United States women’s national team midfielder’s low, hard shot would go around the wall and past Red Stars keeper Erin McCleod.
Seattle would double their lead in the 21st minute after Kaylyn Kyle’s header on goal was knocked down by Leon’s arm.
The result would be just a yellow card for Leon and penalty kick for the Reign. Kyle stepped up to take the kick, driving a shot past Canadian national team teammate Erin McCleod. It was the second penalty kick that Kyle has converted this season.
Rapinoe talled her second goal midway through the second half when she intercepted a backpass for McCleod and forced the Canadian to clear the ball with her feet. McCleod was unable to come away with the ball and Rapinoe would finish into an empty net.
The Reign looked to stifle the Red Stars and earn their first shutout of the season for the remainder of the match but would be challenged when a penalty kick was awarded to Chicago. Lauren Barnes was whistled for a handball in the box and Jen Hoy stepped up to take the kick. Hope Solo was able to make the save on the league-high sixth penalty kick of the year conceded by the Reign.
Hoy would get a second crack at a goal when she took a through ball from Lori Chalupny and slotted a shot past Solo to cut the lead to 3-1 and effectively ending Seattle’s bid for their first shutout of the season.
Seattle added to their leadin the 82nd minute to seal the win after Liz Bogus got in 1v1 with McCleod, burying her shot for the 4-1 win.
- Unwilling to pull out the red card: Adriana Leon’s 21st minute handball for Chicago was most definitely deliberate and did deny a goal-scoring opportunity. However, referee Robert Sibiga deemed it only worthy of a yellow card.
- Playoff picture: Seattle was already a long shot to make the playoffs and the Red Stars are mathematically in the playoff race but would need substantial help from the rest of the top four in order to have a shot at stealing that fourth slot.
July 27: Breakers Move in the 5th Place With Win Over Washington Spirit (FINAL: 5-2 Boston)
The Boston Breakers inched closer to a playoff spot, getting goals from five different players en route to a 5-2 win over the Washington Spirit.
The Spirit opened up the scoring just 78 seconds into the match when Diana Matheson got in behind the Breakers backline and beat Breakers goalkeeper Ashley Phillips 1v1. It was the first time that the Spirit scored in the run of play since May 16.
The Washington lead wouldn’t last for long as Boston quickly went on the attack. Mariah Nogueira was able to find the equalizer, heading in a cross from midfielder Heather O’Reilly. It was the third goal of the season, good for a tie for second place among rookies this season.
Boston would break the tie just for halftime when Lianne Sanderson got a foot on a header from Rhian Wilkinson and put it past Ashlyn Harris.
Wilkinson would get a goal of her own in the 48th minute, which would stand as the game winner when all was said and done for the Breakers. The play started off a cross from O’Reilly that was pinged around in the box before falling to Joanna Lohman. Lohman blasted a shot that was pushed away by Harris but Wilkinson was there to pounce on the loose rebound for her first NWSL goal.
Nine minutes later, Boston was given a chance to extend their lead when Lohman was yanked down in the box. O’Reilly stepped up to take the kick and converted her shot for her fourth goal of the season.
The Spirit would get one back in the 73rd minute when German international Conny Pohlers notched her first goal of the campaign. Stephane Ochs put a cross in and Phlers was there to head it past Phillips.
Boston added a fifth goal in the 78th minute with captain cat Whitehill finishing a shot after a scramble in front of goal following a corner kick. Washington was unable to clear and Whitehill got a foot on it for the final goal of the match.
- Five goal game: It was only the second time all season where one team has accounted for five goals – the other was a match that also involved Boston (a 5-1 loss to Sky Blue FC on June 1). Heather O’Reilly and Rhian Wilkinson each earned a goal and an assist.
- Washington back line: The Spirit were without three starting defenders in Ali Krieger (concussion), Robyn Gayle (knee) and Toni Pressley (groin) to start the match against Boston. Candace Chapman, who missed part of the season with injury, left the match just eight minutes in.
July 28: Rain Delay Doesn’t Stop FC Kansas City Streak as They Top Sky Blue FC 1-0
Courtney Jones’ goal in the 76th minute stood as the game winner as FC Kansas City topped Sky Blue FC 1-0 after a two-hour rain delay.
Lauren Holiday hit a shot from 25 yards out that Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Brittany Cameron punched over the net. On the second corner kick following the save, Holiday found Jones in front of goal and the former Tar heel was able to redirect a shot past Cameron.
Similar to the last meeting between the two clubs, FC Kansas City entered the latter stage of the game with a lead and Sky Blue FC pressing for the equalizer.
Sky Blue FC looked to tie the match in the 85th minute when Katy Freels chipped a pass to Danesha Adams who was standing at the far post. Adams brough the ball down and put a shot on frame from close range that forced Nicole Barnhart to make a diving stop.
The Blues almost added to their lead as the match progressed into stoppage time. Jones had gotten free down the left side and looked to go 1v1 with Cameron. Rather than take the shot right away, the FC Kansas City forward dribbled past the Sky Blue FC keeper and put her shot towards the empty net. Rookie defender Lindsi Lisonbee-Cutshall slid across the goalmouth at the last second to clear the ball off the line.
The home side looked to get on the board early, creating their first opportunit y ten minutes into the match.
Christie Rampone collected a Coco Goodson free kick and played a pass for Freels. Freels was able to find forward Lisa De Vanna but the Aussie couldn’t get a shot off after Barnhart came out to smother the pass.
- Weather delay: Severe thunderstorms pounded the New Brunswick area for almost two hours before the two teams were able to take the field. Both teams had a bit of trouble early on adapting to the slick conditions but were able to create opportunities after feeling out the field in the early going.
- New team to beat: FC Kansas City overtook Sky Blue FC for first place following their win over the Breakers on July 24. The head-to-head matchup meant that Sky Blue had the chance to get back at the top of the table. With the win, FC Kansas City is now the team that everyone else is gunning for, especially with the playoffs only weeks away.
July 28: Chicago Comes Back to Draw in Portland in Final 15 Minutes
The Chicago Red Stars found themselves in another 3-1 hole going into the final 15 minutes of play. And for the second time this season, the Red Stars were able to earn a point out of it.
Julianne Sitch would complete the come back for the Red Stars, getting the game-tying tally in the 86th minute when she collected a loose ball and hit a shot over Karina LeBlanc.
Red Stars forward Alyssa Mautz brought Chicago within a goal, scoring her second of the match in the 75th minute. Mautz got away from her defender on a free kick and headed the ball past the Canadian keeper to cut the lead to 3-2.
Christine Sinclair opened up the scoring in the 23rd minute when she finished a free kick from Tobin Heath. Heath chopped a pass over a Chicago backline that seemed to still be setting up and Sinclair finished a volley past her Canadian women’s national team teammate Erin McCleod.
Heath saw her shot deflect off McCleod’s face minutes later and Portland would head into the locker room with the one-goal lead.
The Red Stars played the majority of the match without midfielder and captain Lori Chalupny who was forced to leave the match after a challenge from behind by Heath. Chalupny appeared to suffer an ankle injury and Heath was given a yellow card (her fourth of the season).
Portland earned a two goal advantage ten minutes into the second half when Meleana Shim scored her thir goal in three games. Shim buried a shot past McCleod after a Morgan pass took a deflection off of Chicago defender Sonja Fuss before finding the foot of the rookie midfielder.
Chicago brought themselves within a goal just five minutes later. Mautz notched her first of the match after winning the ball away from Thorns defender Marian Dougherty and fired a shot upper 90 past LeBlanc.
Sinclair would restore the two goal lead in the 65th minute, earning her second goal of the match. Heath played a cross one-time from Dougherty that the Canadian forward was able to get a foot on to push the ball around McCleod and into the back of the net.
- Don’t count them out: The Red Stars have been in 3-1 holes twice this season – once against FC Kansas City and now against Portland and have escaped with a point in both cases. If nothing else, it is showing teams very quickly that they can’t expect that a lead is going to hold up in the final minutes of a game.
- Portland defensive struggle: There has been much criticism of the Thorns play this season, particularly in the midfield. While the addition of Tobin Heath seemed to help Portland in that aspect, giving up a 3-1 lead with 15 minutes to play was a bit of a shock to say the least. Alex Morgan was pulled off the field in the 74th minute after receiving her fourth yellow card of the season but regardless of whether or not Morgan was on the field, the Thorns should have come away with three points.
- Yellow card watch: Coming into the season, I probably wouldn’t have gone with Morgan and Heath to be atop the yellow card watch as the season wound down. I do take into consideration that the first of Heath’s was for arguing a penalty kick that most of the Thorns were arguing about against Western New York on July 14. That said, the remainder of her yellow cards have been earned on some pretty reckless challenges including the tackle on Chalupny. Portland can’t afford to lose one or both of them with a tough last three weeks of regular season play.