The NWSL Fall Series rolled on last weekend with the Portland Thorns clinching the top prize in the event's Community Shield with a win against OL Reign. Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC, meanwhile, closed out their Fall Series competitions with wins over their opposition. The Fall Series will conclude on Oct. 17 with games streaming on CBS and CBS All Access.
Here are five things we learned from last weekend's matches.
1. Thorns, Dash top standings
The Houston Dash put themselves in a strong position in the Fall Series standings with a win over the Orlando Pride on Friday. The Challenge Cup champions beat the Pride, 2-1 with goals from Veronica Latsko and Shea Groom. But a win 2-1 from Portland Thorns FC over OL Reign gave Portland the top prize in the Verizon Community Shield. The Thorns wrapped up their Fall Series with an unbeaten 3-0-1 record, while the Dash finished a point behind at 3-1-0.
All nine clubs participating in Fall Series selected local businesses or programs to play for throughout the competition with the top three teams based on points winning grants to present to their selected organizations. Portland will be awarded a $25,000 grant for Mimi's Fresh Tees and $15,000 will go to the Houston branch of NAACP with Houston Dash clinching a second-place finish. The Washington Spirit currently sit in third place, but the North Carolina Courage have an opportunity to claim the final prize on goal differential with a lopsided win on Saturday.
2. Sky Blue FC end 2020 on high note
The New Jersey franchise made strides on the pitch during 2020 after a pandemic derailed what would've been the first season at a new home field in Red Bull Arena. Head coach Freya Coombe and general manager Alyse LaHue had a solid offseason that included acquiring veteran midfielder McCall Zerboni and an active draft day that saw the arrival of Mallory Pugh. They also added defender Sabrina Flores, and midfielder Jennifer Cudjoe, among others, as talents that Coombe believes can develop with the club.
In between the lines the team used a possession-based, quick-passing style of play and a formation that will still need time to become more cohesive. But during a choppy year, the team found itself in the semifinals of the Challenge Cup, and added two wins in a four-match Fall Series competition. NWSL expansion will force all teams to take a look at their rosters, but also provide opportunities for building teams like Sky Blue to make decisions about who they will be moving forward. Sky Blue's future is undeniably bright.
3. Chicago ends 2020 on another loss
During their Challenge Cup run, the Chicago Red Stars navigated the summer competition as an opportunity for player evaluations, minutes for newer players, scripted match days, and general player wellness management. Somehow, through constant player rotation in the group stage and injuries to significant players down the stretch, the Red Stars found themselves once again in a championship final. The team would lose to the Houston Dash in the final, and headed into a bit of a limbo ahead of the Fall Series.
The team had several players head overseas to close our their 2020 seasons. But the club still had many regular players return to compete in the Fall Series, and are walking away in 2020 with only one win in the competition. The team aimed to play with a more fluid offense that never appeared to pan out with the constant disruption from the coronavirus pandemic to the regular season, with their best Fall Series showing coming in a 4-1 win over Sky Blue FC that featured two goals from forward Kealia Watt.
4. Pride, Reign still searching for wins
Ahead of the Challenge Cup, Orlando Pride had to withdraw due to positive coronavirus tests. They finally made their return to NWSL completion during the Fall Series. The team played to a scoreless draw against North Carolina Courage in their opening match, and have dropped their last two games. In their last fixture, Sydney Leroux scored a goal against Houston Dash, but Orlando came up short. The team has one final Fall Series match against North Carolina Courage to try to close out 2020 with a win.
OL Reign, meanwhile, dropped a heartbreaker to Portland Thorns FC after officials called two penalties during the rivalry match where the team lost, 2-1. The Reign have had their fair share of scoring woes this year, integrating first-year players, and a first-year head coach while welcoming back players returning from injury. They played to a thrilling 2-2 draw against Utah Royals FC to open their Fall Series, and will host Utah to close out the competition still looking for their first win.
5. What's next for NWSL?
Stoppages around the coronavirus pandemic have made it difficult to navigate when it comes to establishing chemistry for teams, or even analyzing what comes next. In many ways, it's been a bit of a building year for all clubs involved. Watching the type of performances teams have put through Challenge Cup vs. Fall Series hasn't exactly provided much separation between most of the clubs. Houston has had the biggest and most significant improvement throughout the year, Portland has had the biggest leap after the Challenge Cup reminding everyone what they're capable of, and North Carolina will remain elite with players like Debinha and Lynn Williams in its squad. In between all that there's a whole bunch of teams striving for their place in it all.
The Fall Series will conclude Oct. 17, and the league will enter a short offseason before teams have to reconvene to prep for an expansion draft with Racing Louisville FC set to join the league in 2021.