Week nine in the National Women's Soccer League saw an opportunity for a new league leader to emerge as the Portland Thorns FC and the Washington Spirit faced potentially difficult matches while the Chicago Red Stars welcomed bottom-placed Boston Breakers to Toyota Park.
This was also the last time many international players would be with their teams before they headed off to join their national teams to prepare for the 2016 Rio Olympics so teams were hoping to make the most of their time with them.
Chicago leap into first, Boston's woes continue
By the time Chicago kicked off their match with Boston, they knew that a win over Boston would give them first place in the league and the Red Stars duly obliged with a solid three-nil win over the Breakers. Eventual NWSL Player of the Week Sofia Huerta had an excellent outing and started off her hat-trick with a goal in the ninth minute as she deflected a long-range shot by Vanessa DiBernardo into the goal. Chicago continued to dominate proceedings but could not find the second goal by half-time. Huerta grabbed her second of the game not long after the whistle blew for the start of the second half. Huerta found herself free in the box and calmly curled her shot in the side netting of the goal to put Chicago two-nil up. Her third goal of the match came after some good work from Casey Short which Huerta then slid in to convert for Chicago's third in the sixty-second minute.
Boston had absolutely no answer for Huerta or the rest of Chicago's game plan and they could not get themselves going after going down so early in the match. Apart from a draw against Washington, the Breakers have lost almost all of their matches and Matt Beard will need to find a way to pick up points quickly or his team will find themselves finishing bottom of the league once again this season.
Portland grab a solid win away
The Portland Thorns have been the most consistent team in the league so far and a win over Western New York Flash left them still the only unbeaten team in the league. The first half saw most of the chances fall to the Flash but they were unable to capitalise during their strongest period in the game.
The second half saw Christine Sinclair her second of the season and the opening goal of the match in the 48th minute. The lead gave Thorns fans the opportunity to see French international Amandine Henry enter the fray as a Portland player for the first time. Nadia Nadim then extended Portland's lead from the spot in the seventy-eighth minute after a debatable foul led to the penalty.
The win leaves Portland in second and one point behind Chicago while the Flash are now three points off the top in fourth place.
Washington keeps up the pace, Orlando's slide continues
The Spirit welcomed the Orlando Pride to Maryland on Saturday and came away from the match with a well-earned two-nil win over the Pride. Washington started off strong and pressed Orlando from the very first minute. Their pressure told when Estefania Banini found herself with some space in the box in the ninth minute after some great passing leading up to the goal. Banini slotted the ball past Orlando's Ashlyn Harris and the Spirit grabbed the early lead. The Spirit continued to remain on top but were unable to create a lot of clear cut chances for themselves until late in the first half.
Francisca Ordega won the ball from Laura Alleway in what looked like an apparent foul. The referee let play continue and Ordega finished cooly past Harris to grab the second goal of the game for Washington. Washington continued to limit Orlando's chances in the second half and also create a few chances for themselves but the scoreline remained the same at full-time.
Washington are in third after this round of matches, level on points with Portland but as Portland has the head-to-head record, Washington stay a place below them although the Spirit do still have a game in hand. Orlando find themselves in fifth place after a good start to the season has seen them drop points recently.
Sauerbrunn leads the way for FC Kansas City
FC Kansas City has started off the season slowly by their standards and as many had predicted, seem to be still adjusting to losing Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez suddenly during pre-season. Shea Groom has tried to fill in the gap left by the aforementioned two but FCKC have found it difficult to score goals. This time, the goal came from the most unlikely of sources as Becky Sauerbrunn scored in the eightieth minute of the match with a header from just beyond the six-yard box. It was Sauerbrunn's first goal for FCKC and proved to be the only goal of the game as the Kansas side picked up three points at home against the travelling Houston Dash.
The Dash themselves were still without the services of Carli Lloyd and most recently Rachel Daly and it showed as they could not find a clear way through FCKC's strong backline. Houston held on for as long as the possibly could but they were undone by a failure to clear a corner kick which Sauerbrunn capitalized on. The Dash now find themselves in ninth place but have a game in hand over the team directly above them, FC Kansas City.
Sky Blue, Seattle settle for a draw
The other big story of the season seems to be the lack of form from the previous regular season champions Seattle Reign FC and the Pacific North-West outfit came into New Jersey hoping to avenge their two-one loss to Sky Blue FC in the first match of the season. Both teams created chances against each other but somehow, could not find the back of the net. The crossbar also came into play as both teams hit the crossbar once to prevent them from opening the scoring.
If anything, the match came down to some fine goalkeeping displays by Hope Solo for Seattle and Caroline Stanley for Sky Blue as both goalkeepers came up big for their teams time and time again. The draw leaves Seattle six points off of first place in sixth while Sky Blue are just behind them on ten points.