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OCT 27
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XI games to watch in 2018
The NWSL season kicks off on March 24 with a rematch of the NWSL Championship
Denise O'Sullivan's late goal last October gave the Courage a 1-0 win over the Red Stars in the NWSL playoffs. (Photo credit: Andy Mead/isiphotos.com)
Denise O'Sullivan's late goal last October gave the Courage a 1-0 win over the Red Stars in the NWSL playoffs. (Photo credit: Andy Mead/isiphotos.com)

A rematch of the NWSL Championship to kick off the season. A meeting between the top two MVP finalists. A new wrinkle in the league’s best rivalry.

 

Here are eleven games we simply can’t wait to see this season. (View Full Schedule)

 

1. North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns FC

Saturday, March 24 | 3:30 p.m. ET | Lifetime

Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park

 

A rematch of the title game is always fun and this one should not disappoint. The Courage won the NWSL Shield, but the Thorns won the NWSL Championship in October. The physical match will likely still be fresh on the minds of many players on the pitch.

Lindsey Horan scored the game-winning goal in the 49th minute and Emily Menges came up with a clutch block late to seal the win.

They split the regular season series in 2017 before Portland won the final — but the rivalry goes back even longer between the teams. Many of the same Courage players were also on the field for the Western New York Flash’s 2016 semifinal upset of the Thorns in Portland.

The Thorns have never lost a season opener (4-0-1).


2. Utah Royals FC vs. Chicago Red Stars

Saturday, April 14 | 3:30 p.m. ET | Lifetime

Rio Tinto Stadium

 

The inaugural home game for Utah Royals FC. Utah reportedly sold 2,000 season tickets in the month following the announcement that they would be joining the NWSL in 2018 and owner Dell Loy Hansen has said he expects big crowds at Rio Tinto Stadium for the new team. The Utah fans will get their first chance to show their stuff on April 14.

No pressure, though. Their first home game is only the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime and vs. a 2017 playoff team.

Last week, Utah unveiled their new lockerroom to the players — and the world. Complete with bathrobes. We can’t wait to see their first home game.


3. Portland Thorns FC vs. Orlando Pride

Sunday, April 15 | 6 p.m. ET | go90

Providence Park

The Rose City Riveters and the Portland faithful will be on hand for their first home game since winning the 2017 NWSL Championship when Portland Thorns FC plays their home opener on April 15.

Last year’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds meet in a rematch of Portland’s 4-1 playoff win over Orlando in last year’s playoffs. The playoff loss cost the Pride a spot to play for the NWSL Championship at their home stadium.

The Thorns are 4-0-1 vs. the Pride in their history.


4. Portland Thorns FC vs. Seattle Reign FC

Saturday, May 5 | 3:30 p.m. ET | Lifetime

Providence Park

The best rivalry in the NWSL doesn’t need any more spice — but it’ll have it this season.

Allie Long spent five seasons in Portland and was a fan-favorite. She’s second only to Christine Sinclair on the Thorns’ all-time goal scored list.

Now, following a January trade, she’ll be at Providence Park wearing the blue jersey of their rivals.

It’ll also be the first time that the Cascadia rivalry is seen as the NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime.

 

 

The Thorns and Reign will also meet on September 7 in the final game of the regular season for both teams. Seattle, which hosted Portland twice last season, welcomes the Thorns for their only trip north on June 30.


5. Chicago Red Stars vs. Orlando Pride

Wednesday, May 2 | 7:30 p.m. ET | go90

Toyota Park

Sam Kerr in 2017: NWSL Most Valuable Player, Golden Boot winner, 17 goals, 4 assists

Marta in 2017: Second in MVP voting, second in goals scored, 13 goals, 6 assists

Both could miss the first few games of the season because of 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying (Kerr with Australia and Marta with Brazil), but lucky for us all that the Red Stars and Pride don’t meet for the first time until May.

Now that Kerr is a member of the Red Stars, she’ll be teamed up with the reigning U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in Julie Ertz. Marta, meanwhile, will once again be paired up with Alex Morgan, the 2017 CONCACAF Female Player of the Year.

When they met last year, the games were quite memorable — so this should be a pretty good series to watch this season.

They meet again on May 26 in Chicago (NWSL Game of the Week) and then on August 25 in Orlando.


6. Washington Spirit vs. North Carolina Courage

Saturday, April 14 | 7 p.m. ET | go90

Maureen Hendricks Field at the Maryland SoccerPlex

Crystal Dunn was drafted by the Spirit with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft and went on to be named the 2015 NWSL MVP. Dunn scored 15 goals in that memorable season, leading the Spirit to a spot in the playoffs. In 2016, Dunn and the Spirit made the NWSL Championship. They lost in penalty kicks, but Dunn scored both goals in regulation for Washington.

Dunn then left the NWSL and spent 2017 playing in England. Now, she could make her return to the Maryland SoccerPlex on April 14.

The Spirit had their best crowd last season (sell-out crowd of 5,200) for former captain Ali Krieger’s return, and should do the same when the former MVP is in town.

The two players traded away to Washington, Ashley Hatch and Taylor Smith, make their return to North Carolina on May 12 and July 11.


7. Seattle Reign FC vs. Utah Royals FC

Wednesday, July 11 | 7:30 p.m. ET | go90

UW Medicine Pitch at Memorial Stadium

After five seasons, two NWSL Shields and 100 games coached in Seattle, Laura Harvey will be a visitor at Memorial Stadium. Harvey resigned as coach of the Reign on November 7 and was immediately replaced by former FC Kansas City coach Vlatko Andonovski, weeks before Utah entered the NWSL. By November 27, Harvey was introduced as Utah’s first-ever head coach.

As for Andonovski, he will also be coaching against many of his FC Kansas City former players. (Utah acquired FCKC’s players after the team ceased operations.)

“It will be weird playing against the Reign. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s professional sport,” Harvey said in her introductory conference call. “It is the ultimate trade. We’ve basically traded spots.”


8. Chicago Red Stars vs. Houston Dash

Wednesday, April 18 | 7:30 p.m. ET | go90

Toyota Park

 

Though the teams meet in Week 1, that game will be in Houston. Christen Press’s homecoming at Toyota Park won’t be until April 14.

Press spent three and a half seasons in Chicago. In that time, the Red Stars made the playoffs three times and she scored 34 career goals. But, the Red Stars were never able to make it to the NWSL Championship, coming up just short three years in a row.

Now, Press is in Houston and Sam Kerr will be lined up at forward in Chicago this season.


9. Sky Blue FC vs. Chicago Red Stars

Saturday, July 7 | 3:30 p.m. ET | Lifetime

Yurcak Field

 

Sam Kerr’s return to Yurcak Field, the home of so many of her late-game heroics in 2017, will definitely be one of the can’t-miss games of the season. The reigning NWSL MVP scored 10 of her 17 goals at home — nine of those in the second half. Yurcak was the site of her 12-minute comeback hat trick, and her second-half four-goal outburst in a comeback win over Seattle. She scored twice at home to win the game in the 90th minute or later and once to tie the game in the 90th minute or later.

 

 

Kerr will get a warm welcome from the fans in New Jersey, but they’ll be hoping for just a few less goals this time around.


10. Sky Blue FC vs. Houston Dash

Saturday, May 5 | 7 p.m. ET | go90

Yurcak Field

 

Two new head coaches — both women — are joining the NWSL this season: Vera Pauw with the Houston Dash and Denise Reddy of Sky Blue FC. Reddy has NWSL experience as an assistant with the Washington Spirit. This season will be Pauw’s first in United States professional soccer.

Both are trying to turn around teams that did not make the playoffs last season (Sky Blue FC finished sixth, the Dash eighth) and overseeing rosters that have undergone quite a bit of turnover since last season due to a number of offseason trades.

It’ll also be new Sky Blue FC midfielder Carli Lloyds first game vs. her old team.


11. North Carolina Courage vs. Chicago Red Stars

Sunday, May 6 | 7 p.m. ET | go90

Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park

 

A rematch of last year’s dramatic playoff game.

The Chicago Red Stars appeared to have the North Carolina Courage’s number in 2017, going 3-0-0 against them in the regular season. The Courage only lost seven games last year en route to the NWSL Shield, with nearly half of them coming at the hands of the Red Stars.

That all changed in the playoffs.

 

 

The Courage won 1-0 thanks to Denise O’Sullivan’s game-winning goal in the 89th minute. Her shot deflected off the knee of Julie Ertz and past Alyssa Naeher and sent the Red Stars home in the semifinals for the third straight season.

 

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