NWSL preseason round up: week four

Eight NWSL teams participated in matches during the final week of the preseason. NWSL regular season play will start on March 24.

NWSL preseason round up: week four
The Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage faced off on Saturday in front of over 6,000 fans in Richmond, VA. | Photo: @WashSpirit

The final week of National Women's Soccer League preseason matches have come and gone and eight teams were in action in that time. With roster cuts coming on Monday, this was the last opportunity for fringe players to break into their team's final roster.

Thorns Spring Invitational

The three match days of the Thorns Spring Invitational were covered separately and can be found in their own articles. The Chicago Red Stars took the crown with two wins and one loss. Their only loss was in the final round of the competition to the U-23 United States women's national team. The Houston Dash came second with four points. Their only win came in their first match against the U-23 USWNT. The U-23 team tied Houston with four points but came third due to their head-to-head loss. The star of the tournament was Catarina Macario who scored a brace in the day two match with the Portland Thorns FC. The Thorns came last in the tournament, earning just two draws and one loss.

The Portland Thorns and Houston Dash battled to a 0-0 draw in the final match of the Thorns Spring Invitational. | Photo: @ThornsFC
The Portland Thorns and Houston Dash battled to a 0-0 draw in the final match of the Thorns Spring Invitational. | Photo: @ThornsFC

Washington Spirit vs North Carolina Courage

The Washington Spirit hosted the North Carolina Courage at City Stadium in Richmond, Virginia on Saturday night. The two teams brought an amazing 6235 fans to the stadium, but the hosts were soundly trounced by their neighbors to the south.

The Courage dominated possession from start to finish with their high-pressure system often forcing attacking players like Mallory Pugh and Estefania Banini back to their own 18-yard box while holding the ball. The first goal of the match came in the 12th minute when the Courage earned a corner kick after a period of sustained pressure. Abby Dahlkemper served the ball high to the top of the six-yard box and fellow central defender Abby Erceg rose up and powered a header into the top of the goal to earn a 1-0 lead. It didn't take long for the Courage to put another ball past Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Crystal Dunn drove hard toward the baseline and cut the ball back to the top of the six-yard box where Jess McDonald sat almost alone. The Washington defense ran right past her and left her to place the ball by the keeper.

The second half saw a set of changes from both teams, including a switch from Sabrina D'Angelo to Katelyn Rowland for the Courage. The two keepers have been unable to separate themselves during the preseason. While the Courage continued to dominate the game, Washington had a few extra opportunities and the Courage were unable to finish any of their many opportunities. North Carolina kept the pressure on and finally broke through in the 84th minute when Lynn Williams sent a low cross to the foot of Kristen Hamilton who easily beat the keeper. The 3-0 scoreline would be taken to the final whistle and would leave the Courage as the only team not to concede a goal during the preseason despite playing five matches.

Seattle Reign FC @ UCLA

The Seattle Reign FC went on the road and crushed the UCLA Bruins 4-0. Michelle Betos got the start in goal again and was forced to make a few early saves before the Reign got their feet underneath them. The Bruins hung strong for the entire first half keeping the score at 0-0 despite late pressure from Seattle. 

It didn't take long in the second half for the Reign to find their form. The first goal of the night came in the 52nd minute when Jodie Taylor beat the Bruins goalkeeper off a pass from Megan Rapinoe. The second goal came just four minutes later when offensive pressure forced a turnover in the attacking third. A powerful shot was taken from Rapinoe to score the second goal for the Reign. Beverly Yanez scored the third goal for the Reign in a dominating nine-minute run off a cross from Lauren Barnes. Yanez had to slide to catch the ball and redirect it into the net. She was able to earn a brace in the 71st minute, scoring the fourth goal for Seattle from just outside the 18-yard box.

The Seattle Reign players practice in California before their game against UCLA. | Photo: @ReignFC
The Seattle Reign players practice in California before their game against UCLA. | Photo: @ReignFC

The Reign won their two preseason games with a combined score of 7-1.

Sky Blue FC vs St. John's University

Sky Blue FC finished their preseason with a 6-0 thumping of St. John's University at Sportika Sports. Janine Beckie started the scoring in the 11th minute by beating the St. John's keeper from the top of the 18-yard box. Sky Blue struggled to get their second goal with a shot of a post and a deflection off a defender leading to a goal by Raquel Rodriguez

Beckie scored her second goal of the match just one minute into the second half off a pass from Shea Groom. Canada's Adriana Leon scored the 4-0 goal off a pass from Savannah McCaskill in the 56th minute. The 61st minute saw McCaskill score her own goal on a hard shot from close range to bring the score to five for Sky Blue FC. The sixth and final goal came when the ball was deflected high into the air and Shea Groom went up and headed it into the back of the net. 

Sky Blue FC will not be playing on the first weekend of the regular season.

Utah Royals FC @ UCLA

The Utah Royals FC closed out their preseason with a 4-1 victory over the UCLA Bruins. Brittany Ratcliffe got the scoring started for Utah in the 10th minute when she collected a poor clearance at the top of the box and placed the ball away from the UCLA keeper. Recently acquired Canadian forward Diana Matheson scored the second Royals goal in the 27th minute on a penalty kick. The penalty was earned by Ratcliffe.

Utah took a 3-0 lead in the 62nd minute when Meagan Kelly stretched out and poked the ball into the back of the net off a pass from Gunnhildur Jonsdottir. UCLA tried to claw back with a goal of their own in the 81st minute when Delanie Sheehan controlled the ball off a corner kick and finished from close range. Jonsdottir earned her third assist of the match in the 88th minute when she sent the ball forward to Erika Tymrak who turned and took a first-time shot to finalize the scoreline at 4-1. 

The NWSL will be back for the regular season on March 24.