Updated: Jan 1, 2020
The Game Changers is a weekly series looking at the most important results of each week. Each section will look at one team and how its win, loss, or draw impacts the season.
Week Five marked the second week in the NWSL with no U.S. national team players, and the first week without the Canadians. The Utah Royals were dealt their first loss from the Houston Dash on Saturday, as were the North Carolina Courage. After last week, where a total of only two goals were scored, every team scored at least once this week. Here is a full breakdown of the scores:
Sky Blue vs. Washington Spirit (2-3)
Utah Royals vs. Houston Dash (1-2)
Orlando Pride vs. Portland Thorns (1-3)
Chicago Red Stars vs. North Carolina Courage (3-1)
Utah Royals drop points for the first time in 2019
The Utah Royals won their first three games in 2019, but dropped points at home against the Houston Dash. The Utah Royals haven’t dominated any of the games they have won, and this match against the Houston Dash opens the door for similar struggles to 2018. However, you could argue that the two goals from the Houston Dash– both from Rachel Daly– were spectacular. And they were the first two goals Utah conceded this season.
Does this game say more about the Houston Dash or the Utah Royals? It’s hard to say at this point. The Utah Royals may not be dominating their matches, but they have shown that they will be a good team in 2019. But will they be good enough to claim one of the four playoff spots? That’s the question.
Houston Dash defeats Utah Royals on the road
The Houston Dash earned another win this season, becoming the first team in 2019 to defeat the Utah Royals. They now sit in the No. 1 spot in the standings, with 10 points in 5 games. They have three wins this season, with just one loss and one draw. They haven’t always looked dominate and they will be losing a lot more players in the coming weeks, including their top goal-scorer Rachel Daly. But this game they managed to find success without their Canadian players, and against a team that has been unstoppable.
Like Utah, this game was significant for the Houston Dash when it comes to thinking about their chances at the playoffs. Houston is a strong team, possibly stronger than they were last season when they finished in the No. 6 slot, just five points the last playoff team. And while they are losing their national team players, they are also likely to become more settled as they become more familiar with the playing style of their first year head coach. This win for Houston was a good opportunity to show they have what it takes to go far in 2019. They did not disappoint.
North Carolina loses for the first time since mid-2018.
On Sunday, the North Carolina Courage earned their first loss since their 1-0 defeat against the Utah Royals on June 16th, 2018. In that game, Brittany Ratcliffe scored a screamer of a goal in stoppage time to earn the win for the Royals. But on Sunday, North Carolina was handed a 3-1 loss by the Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium, their first multi-goal loss since May 2017. They were on the road, and without some key players. But this feels significant in breaking North Carolina’s armor.
Right now, the Courage sit in the No. 4 spot in the standings. They have a 2-1-2 record. The Courage will be one of the best teams in the league, if not the best, and will almost definitely make the playoffs. But this loss, plus their two draws so far this season, sends a message to other teams in the league that North Carolina might be more vulnerable than we thought.