The National Women's Soccer League wrapped up Week 4 action across the league over the weekend. Alex Morgan's goal-scoring streak has ended, but the Orlando Pride are still on top in the standings, while the Portland Thorns have climbed their way into second place, bumping the Washington Spirit into third. Let's take a look at some takeaways from the weekend's games that shook up the standings.
1. Chicago unlocks North Carolina's midfield
North Carolina played away against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday fresh off a five-goal win over Racing Louisville FC, as the Red Stars looked to bounce back from a loss against the Houston Dash.
The Red Stars did well to limit North Carolina's box midfield in a 1-0 win with an impressive counter press, shutting down space between the lines and limiting options. Morgan Gautrat and Sarah Woldmoe of the Red Stars were able to disrupt lanes as the team committed to its typical 4-3-3 but shifted into a bit of a faux three back at times with Vanessa Dibernardo aiding in directing traffic when the team had possession. Getting outside back Arin Wright higher into the midfield on the left as forward Rachel Hill dropped lower on the right at times allowed strikers Mal Pugh and Kealia Watt to cover ground up top.
Chicago limited North Carolina to a franchise low one shot on goal with the performance, and were able to maintain their narrow one-goal lead generated from a corner.
"Definitely lost in the midfield today for sure," Courage coach Paul Riley said. "Chicago dominated the game plan, our box couldn't get on the ball. We tried to get Sam [Mewis] on the ball a bit more by dropping her deeper in the box. But Chicago looked really good in the midfield, they created great chances. I think it was a fair result to be honest, we created a few more chances in the second half and the subs definitely made a huge difference, but now it's back to the drawing board."
2. Gotham FC get back to winning
Gotham's offense got rolling once again on Saturday against OL Reign after the he NJ/NY side went on two-game winless and scoreless streak. Head coach Freya Coombe rotated the lineup for her squad in light of international absences and injuries. Gotham's staring lineup featured Midge Purce higher, as Sabrina Flores slotted in at outside back. The team got an early goal in the 13th minute from Ifeoma Onumonu and it was the difference in a 1-0 win.
The two sides played and an exiting back and forth, as Gotham held on for the win. The loss was OL Reign's second,after going undefeated in their first two matches. The club recently announced the signing of USWNT defender Alana Cook from Paris Saint-Germain, and the team is still awaiting the arrival of loan acquisitions Dzenifer Marosan and Sarah Bouaddhi.
3. Portland showcases midfield depth
Portland climb the standings with a 3-0 win over Racing Louisville FC on Saturday at Providence Park. The team was without captain Christine Sinclair who was out on international duty with the Canadian women's national team.
Head coach Mark Skinner slotted in Angela Salem and Rocky Rodriguez into the midfield against Louisville, as the two have been splitting time on the pitch for the Thorns in the early part of the regular season. Both Rodriguez and Salem got on the scoreboard.
The midfielders will be tasked with running the Thorns midfield in light of Sinclair, and likely Lindsey Horan, being absent for the upcoming Olympic games.
4. Orlando stays undefeated
The Spirit and Pride played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday, splitting the points with Orlando staying in first place and the Spirit dropping into third.
Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan kicked off her regular season with a four-game scoring streak, but it was snapped during the match. Brazilian midfielder Marta and second-year Pride player Taylor Kornieck linked up for an equalizer on the road, however.
As the Spirit continue to get their young attacking duo of Ashely Sanchez and Trinity Rodman more time on the pitch together, Ashely Hatch has been quietly working her way back into form as she had three shots, with two on target, while creating two chances. Her opening goal in the match helped the Spirit earn the draw.
5. Houston is back on track
After a slow start to their regular season, the Houston Dash are on a two-game winning streak with their most recent victory coming against Kansas City NWSL. The Dash picked up a 1-0 victory thanks to another late-game set piece goal scored by defender Katie Naughton.
It's the second consecutive match where Houston scored the game-winner off a corner kick. Kansas City NWSL are still on the hunt for their first win in 2021.