"Gawd, when is X going to get back?!? Just wait, you'll see!"
The time has come for the many women who've been missing due to Women's World Cup qualifiers to return to the NWSL. Marta is back and ready to go for Orlando. Is there anyone who thinks their attack won't be immediately improved? Speaking of attacks, how about adding Sam Kerr to a Red Stars side that sits in 2nd place even without her (or Casey Short or Julie Ertz)? Ertz should return on Saturday and Chicago suddenly seems a seriously formidable contender.
Nine teams in the schedule has started to deliver some odd storylines. Sky Blue has only played three times, while by the end of the day, both the Courage and the Red Stars will have played six. Chicago plays again on Wednesday and yet again next Sunday, while NJ plays only next Saturday night. So by the time Sunday, May 6th comes to a close, Sky Blue will have FOUR matches under their belt while the Red Stars will have played EIGHT. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What Happened in COG 4?
So there were a few surprises across the 6 matches in COG 4, and I think I got almost all of them wrong. Well, that's not surprising, but the games were.
On Wednesday, Seattle couldn't find their stride without Megan Rapinoe while on the road at North Carolina, but the Red Stars positively stomped on the visiting Dash. Friday night saw the Thorns earn only one point on their home turf, rewarding the Spirit with a point to take home after Horan couldn't convert a late penalty. On Saturday, the Courage were similarly hospitable to the Royals, splitting points in a 2-2 draw. Then, feeling left out of the draw-fest after their Wednesday victory, Chicago graciously permitted Sky Blue to earn their first point of the season courtesy of a 1-1 result. By Sunday Orlando had decided that draws were no longer cool and opted to keep all the points with a 1-0 defeat of the Dash.
Glass half full = There are no teams who've lost all their matches.
Glass half empty = By next weekend, Carolina could have as many as 19 points and Chicago could have as many as 17 points (though not both) while Sky Blue could have as few as one. Yes, the New Jersey side would have games in hand, but that's ugly.
North Carolina Courage at Houston Dash
Saturday at 3:30PM Eastern on Lifetime
It's still April, but temperatures will climb into the mid-80s in Houston on Saturday afternoon. It's a recipe for watering breaks, but these are both southern squads and they'll be as ready for the heat as can be expected.
The Courage have been slowly getting Sam Mewis back into games, and I'd expect that to continue, despite her continuing to be listed as questionable on the injury report. She's joined in that status by Allysha Chapman and Abby Dahlkemper. Otherwise, there aren't any new additions to the list. Houston has zero players listed in any status, which means Kealia Ohai is feeling good following her half hour of action in Orlando. Houston needs her to contribute in a hurry. Kyah Simon will also be available for the Dash, and she's a bit of a wild card, having been out of the NWSL last season. Will she hit the ground running or take some time to work into a new system?
Ultimately, this is a really tough matchup for the Dash. This side has only managed to score one goal so far this season. McCall Zerboni, Crystal Dunn and Jess McDonald have scored two each. Feels like a blowout, though I think Ohai and Daly can make it a bit more competitive
Houston Dash 1-3 NC Courage
Chicago Red Stars at Washington Spirit
Saturday at 7PM Eastern on Go90
When the Boston Breakers evaporated earlier this year, I felt like I had to pick another team to support. But though I've lived all over the country, Chicago is the only place I'd called home that has an NWSL presence. And for some reason, I just didn't believe in the Red Stars. Those days are over (as are the days of me feeling the need to support any team in particular—every side deserves support). Chicago has improved each week and as their injured players return, they're only going to get better. Heck, they get Julie Ertz back this week. Raise your hand if you think they're going to be worse. Nobody? Yeah, me neither. Oh right, AND Sam Kerr is finally in town.
Sorry, Spirit fans.
Washington might be able to conjure some magic to build upon the road point they earned at Portland, but I don't see it happening. I do, however, see a Sam Kerr flip happening.
Washington Sprit 1-3 Chicago Red Stars
Seattle Reign at Sky Blue FC
Saturday at 7:30PM Eastern on Go90
Seattle couldn't do much against the Courage last weekend without Megan Rapinoe. Though part of the problem might have been short rest and an extended road trip, they didn't have a replacement for Rapinoe's creativity. I mean, who would? She's a singular talent who makes everyone around her better. Unfortunately, her left hamstring will keep her out again this week.
Orlando, on the other hand, is healthy and has reloaded with the entire international contingent. Marta, Poliana and Monica have returned from Brazil duty, and Alannah Kennedy and Emily van Egmond have landed after securing Women's World Cup qualification with Australia. They might not all play, but let's say it's a safe bet that at least Marta will get in the game. That's going to be more than enough to frustrate the Reign.
Orlando Pride 3-1 Seattle Reign
Portland Thorns at Utah Royals
Saturday at 9PM Eastern on Go90
Portland has lost their otherworldly GK Adrianna Franch to a torn right meniscus that requires surgery. Cancel the season, right? Not so fast. Though she looked a bit less than completely confident at times last weekend, Britt Eckerstrom shouldn't change Portland's ambitions at all. Her play in Australia has been excellent, and with at least a few weeks ahead of her as a starter, she should have a good chance to show her talents in the NWSL.
Franch isn't the only otherworldly player on the Thorns. But we've only seen glimpses of one of them recently. Finally, Tobin Heath had an exciting 30-minute substitute shift last weekend and looked like her wily, insanely talented self. She'll work her way back up to full games, and then look out.
For the Royals, all that is left to achieve in their first season is to get their first win. They've managed to earn three points from three draws, but haven't been able to get over the hump and collect a win. That's a really tough ask against the Thorns. However, they did just earn a draw away at North Carolina, so this is a team that can hang with anyone. They just need to improve upon hanging with teams and get to work beating some teams. Three draws in four games isn't bad, but they've played well enough to win.
Let's go with an upset special pick for Utah's 2nd home match. My heart's not really in it, but you've got to think it's possible following last week's results for both sides.
Utah Royals 2-1 Portland Thorns