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NWSL takeaways: Rapinoe own goal costs Reign, Thorns find their scoring boots and Pride just keep winning

The National Women’s Soccer League rolled on over Memorial Day weekend. Here are the top takeaways from this weekend’s action.

1. The Pride of being on top

Orlando Pride extended their undefeated streak as they picked up their third consecutive wins, including two victories in four days against Portland Thorns and North Carolina Courage. Veteran strikers Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan have been scoring goals and providing the offense for the Pride in the early weeks of the season, but Orlando’s backline have been the breakout stars in the early matches. 

Head coach Marc Skinner rotated goal keepers between the quick turn around of games as Erin McLeod featured against the Courage and Ashlyn Harris kept things scoreless against Kansas City NWSL. The backline in front of the goal keepers have been solid, with strong individual performances from center backs Pheobe McClernon and Courtney Petersen. 

The two defenders played together at the University of Virgina and were drafted by Orlando in the 2020 draft, and they’ve finally become the team’s preferred pairing this season. The two second year rookies have slotted along side veteran defenders Ali Krieger and Ali Riley, and have conceded just three goals over their first four matches of the season.

2. Dash get first win of the regular season.

Houston finally earned their first win of the 2021 regular season when they defeated Chicago Red Stars 2-1 on Sunday. The 2020 Challenge Cup champions were winless in their first three matches of the regular season, after earning a 1-1 draw in their home opener, the Dash dropped their next two games, with their most recent loss coming against Washington Spirit where the Dash had a player advantage against 10 player Spirit side for the majority of the second half. 

The defense had a rocky start against Chicago as Mallory Pugh opened the goal scoring, but equalized on a top class goal from Nichelle Prince.

Chicago remained active in their attack but were dealt a crushing late game blow when Dash midfielder Kristie Mewis, how had largely been isolated from the game, provided the game winner and delivered Houston’s first win of the season.

3. Gotham FC have cooled off in front of goal.

NJ/NY Gotham FC hosted Portland as the two sides looked to get back into winning form. After opening up their regular season with a big five goal win against Chicago, Portland lost their following two matches. The Thorns defeated Gotham FC on Sunday in a narrow 1-0 victory thanks to a elite goal from midfielder Crystal Dunn from outside the top of the box through several defenders.

Not for lack of effort, Gotham’s attempts to generate offense in front of goal wasn’t lacking, though the team only recorded three shot attempts on target from their total 13 shots, not all that surprising given that despite the relatively hefty shot total their total expected goal count was fairly modes. Thorns on the other hand had a more dominent 22 shots.

The east coast team has figured things out on the backline, with the return of Kalien Sheridan back in net and tightening things up with the center back duo of Estelle Johnson and Mandy Freeman, but the goals have gone missing in their last two matches.

4. Spirit climb back up the standings

After going winless in their first two matches of the regular season, the Washington Spirit closed out week three action with 7 points from their first four matches of the regular season. 

The team mounted an impressive comeback against the Houston Dash in midweek action, winning the match 2-1 despite closing out the second half with only 10 players. The Spirit then ended the week on a quick turnaround when they traveled to Tacoma, Washington to face off against OL Reign. The Spirit and Reign were scoreless at halftime, before the Spirit then created some chaos off a corner kick, forcing and own goal from Megan Rapinoe to secure the win on the road and lift the team to second place in the league table.

Spirit managed to escape despite having only 43% possession and getting outshot 15-12 on the match.