NWSL Week 5 winners and losers: Courage end skid in Houston

HOUSTON, TEXAS – APRIL 28: Denise O’Sullivan #10 of North Carolina Courage controls the ball against the Houston Dash during the first half at Shell Energy Stadium on April 28, 2023 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

From an upset on the west coast to a shortened match in a rainy Houston, Texas, week 5 in the NWSL featured high drama right to the final whistle.

Somehow the National Women’s Soccer League has already reached the third month of the league campaign. Week 5 in the NWSL was arguably one of the most chaotic of the season so far. Only two teams remain unbeaten after the Houston Dash faltered for the first time against an enticing North Carolina Courage side. North of Houston, Debinha and the Kansas City Current continue to roll under the club’s new leadership of Caroline Sjoblom. 

The west coast was where the drama-filled matches took place. After another questionable display against KC last week, Seb Hines’ Orlando Pride responded with the most shocking result in the regular season to this point. The highlight of the weekend was without a doubt the suspenseful contest at Providence Park between the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC. Mike Norris’ side was just seconds away losing their first game of the season until goalkeeper Bella Bixby found the back of the net in the 97′.

Some clubs could not close the door while others shined in the final match week of April. Here are two winners, and two losers from a week that featured the most draws we’ve seen in a single week.

Winners and losers from week 5 of the NWSL regular season

1. North Carolina Courage — Winner

Sean Nahas’ North Carolina Courage only had to play just over 51 minutes on the road to conclude their three-game losing streak in the regular season. The possession-oriented Courage controlled the game with their precise passing before it was called off following a three-hour weather delay. Despite holding the ball for a much longer period of time than their opposition in the previous two league contests, North Carolina was missing that final touch.

No team has fewer shots on target through five games than the Courage. In the Lone Star State rather, Nahas’ team looked to be much more purposeful with the ball going forward. North Carolina may be young, but this is a team to keep an eye on going forward in both the league and cup competitions.

The two-time NWSL champions found the back of the net twice on the road. Only one counted, but the build-up play from this new-look Courage team compared to last season was a massive step forward with a mid-week match at home against NJ/NY Gotham FC right around the corner. At a passing completion percentage of over 77 percent, North Carolina leads the entire NWSL, ahead of even the Portland Thorns.

A brilliant ball by Emily Fox in the 33′ set up Tyler Lussi for her first NC goal since moving from Angel City FC in the offseason. It may have been less than 60 minutes, but it was something positive to build on heading into the Challenge Cup. For the first time since March 25, the Courage have taken all three points. All the team needed to get back on track could have been an abandoned game where they did not have to experience the tole of a 90-minute match.

2. Orlando Pride — Winner

Orlando may just have San Diego’s number. Since the Wave joined the NWSL, the Pride have taken seven points off of them, including what is now six points in southern California following this past weekend’s shocking 3-1 triumph.

On the road in one of the toughest places to play in the entire league, the winless Orlando Pride walked in and took all three points against a side coming off back-to-back wins against west coast rivals. Casey Stoney’s side struck first via a goal by Jaedyn Shaw, but that did not deter a team that has been struggling more than anyone in all competitions.

Coming off of a display where Orlando managed just one shot on target out of the 14 in Kansas City, Seb Hines knew the goal to success was to challenge the goalkeeper on a much more consistent basis. For the first time all season, the Pride challenged the opposition’s shot-stopper more than five times. Brazilian international Adriana was sensational in her 90 minutes, completing three of her six take-ons while Marta played a full match for the first time since March of last season in the Challenge Cup.

The majority of the results before week 5 have been pretty deflating for the Pride. Whether it was not being able to hold the lead against the Courage in the Challenge Cup or allowing a Katie Johnson game-winner at home in stoppage time, Orlando has continuously been given the bad end of the stick.

It could just be that Hines has cracked the Stoney code, but this phenomenal display is something the entire club can use against teams other than San Diego. A front three of Marta, Adriana, and Messiah Bright has the potential to be something special when given time. It just took a few weeks for this club to get going on both ends of the pitch. While they will spend the majority of the season at the bottom, that does not mean top contenders are going to be given a day off when they encounter the Pride on their schedule.

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