(Originally published on February 21, 2019)
Here are eleven games we simply can’t wait to see this season.
When you break many NWSL records, and complete the best season in American women’s professional soccer history with a dominating 3-0 win in the NWSL Championship, you get to kick off the NWSL season at home. The reigning champions North Carolina Courage will welcome the Chicago Red Stars to Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary on April 13 to open the seventh season of NWSL action.
It’s a rematch of the 2018 NWSL semifinal, which was set to be played in North Carolina, but was moved because of Hurricane Florence. The Courage won the semifinal 2-0 after it was moved to Providence Park in Portland. And that win wasn’t the first time North Carolina has kept Chicago from advancing to the NWSL Championship. The Courage also beat the Red Stars in the 2017 semifinal. Despite the Red Stars going 3-1-2 vs. the Courage during the last two regular seasons, they’ve have not been able to make it past North Carolina in the postseason.
This game could be the professional debut of U.S. women’s national team defender Tierna Davidson, who was drafted by the Red Stars with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NWSL College Draft after leaving Stanford early to join the league.
The Houston Dash beat Reign FC for the first time last May thanks to Veronica Latsko‘s stoppage time game-winner. Latsko cited the goal as her favorite moment from her rookie season, and for good reason — the Dash had never earned a point vs. the Reign in their history until her goal. The match still stands as the only time the Dash have not lost to the Reign.
After Reign FC play their first game at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma on April 21, the next time they’ll be at home is on May 18 when Sky Blue FC visit. It’ll be the first time the two teams meet since the offseason trade that sent Shea Groom to the Reign and Nahomi Kawasumi to Sky Blue FC. Kawasumi is beloved by Reign fans, and it will be quite strange for them to see her in the opponent’s jersey.
Not only did Utah Royals FC hand the North Carolina Courage their only defeat of the year, they actually never lost to the 2018 NWSL Champions last season—the only team to accomplish the feat. In addition to their last-second dramatic win, Utah pulled off two ties vs. the Courage. Utah Royals FC finished in fifth place in 2018, just shy of getting another chance to face the Courage in the playoffs and, perhaps, pull off another big upset. Brittany Ratcliffe had North Carolina’s number last season—one of just two players to score more than one goal vs. the league’s best defense. The only other player to score twice vs. the Courage? Sam Kerr.
The NWSL is back with a full slate of games the first weekend after the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the first chance to possibly see the league’s international stars post-tournament. Red Stars and Australia forward Sam Kerr is poised to make headlines in France, and this could be her first NWSL game following the World Cup. The Dash and Red Stars wrapped up their season series on May 12 last year, so it’s been quite awhile since the two teams played each other. The Dash nearly had an opening weekend win over the Red Stars last year, but the Red Stars equalized late to steal a point.
Every seat in Providence Park could be filled as Portland Thorns FC welcome the Orlando Pride to town the first Sunday after the Women’s World Cup. With the new capacity of the stadium expected to be around 25,000, the Thorns will have a chance to set a new NWSL record for attendance. The current record is held by the Pride, set in their inaugural home opener.
Lindsey Horan had one of her best performances of the season vs. Utah Royals FC on July 6, a 4-0 win for the Thorns, on her way to winning the MVP trophy. Portland went unbeaten vs. Utah in 2018, scoring seven total goals vs. one of the leagues’s stingiest defenses.
Two straight NWSL Championships have now been Courage vs. Thorns (and the teams met in the 2016 semifinals when the Courage were the Western New York Flash). So, there’s a bit of rivalry between the two clubs. While they’ll meet for the first time in 2019 on June 15 in North Carolina, August 11 will be the first time the Courage return to Providence Park since their 3-0 win over the Thorns in the 2018 NWSL Championship. It’ll also be the first time the teams will meet with their full complement of the players, as their first meeting is during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Will 2019 see yet another repeat final between the two teams?
The Red Stars—led by two-time Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr —emphatically eliminated the Pride from playoff contention in 2018. In a game the Pride needed to win to stay alive, Kerr was just too much to handle, tallying two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win. Kerr scored four goals in three games vs. Orlando last season.
There always seems to be drama when the Spirit and Pride meet. Who can forget Marta‘s 86th minute game-winning goal from last season?
Or that time Marta and Mallory Pugh each bagged braces with Pugh equalizing in the 90th minute? Or the three highlight reel goals from Marta, Camila and Alex Morgan in 2017? Or Pugh and Ashley Hatch scoring late to steal a win for the Spirit last season?
The Reign may have moved to Tacoma, but the Thorns/Reign rivalry will still be strong. Thorns FC beat Reign FC on the final weekend of the regular season to snatch the No. 2 seed away from the Reign, who had held for it much of the season. Then Portland won again at home in the semifinals to advance to the final.
Once again, the final Cascadia clash will come late in the regular season, this time on the Reign’s new home pitch in Tacoma. Will another playoff spot be on the line?