NWSL Outdrawing Some MLS Games as World Cup Stars Return

Posted By Peter Nolan on July 23, 2019
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The NWSL is back in full swing. 20 of the 23 players on the World Cup Championship winning USWNT were back in action with their NWSL club teams across the nation this weekend, and you know what? The people came out to see them.

A crowd of 17,388 made its way to Bridgeview, Illinois on Sunday evening to watch a total of eight USWNT heroes, plus Aussie great Sam Kerr!, with the home side emerging with a 2-1 win.

How impressive is that? The MLS Chicago Fire is leaving Bridgeview to play at cavernous Soldier Field because no one will go watch them in the Chicago suburb.

It gets even more impressive when you go broader:

The Houston Dash is the only team in the league that does not feature even one U.S. international, but 5,500 still came out when they defeated the Washington Spirit 2-1 at the Maryland SoccerPlex.

5,500 might not sound overly impressive but that number is listed as a sellout at the Boyd’s, Maryland home of the Spirit. Washington was missing its World Cup breakout star Rose Lavelle, but Mallory Pugh did go the full 90, although missing a last-minute penalty kick ended her homecoming on a down note.

The fans also came out in droves, attendance 15,931, to welcome home the Utah Royals three World Cup winners, plus four more from the visiting Portland Thorns, who also feature Candian superstar Christine Sinclair.

And Orlando nearly doubled their typical crowd from last season when 9,415 came out to salute their World Cup heroes as they edged SkyBlue FC in a bottom of the table battle.

Not bad considering that the Pride was without Alex Morgan, while Carli Lloyd was unavailable for Sky Blue.

Is it sustainable?

So, what did the crowds see? And will it bring them back?

The second part of that question will be answered by time but the fans that laid down their hard-earned dollars were treated to some exciting soccer played by some of the best women’s soccer players on the planet.

The highlight had to be the nutmeg masterclass put on by the Utah Royals Christen Press against Chicago. Press showed why so many have clamored for so long to see her get more PT for the nats, as she megged a helpless Elizabeth Ball before somehow sneaking her shot past USWNT backup and NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Adrianna Franch.

Franch probably should have done better, much like Utah netminder Nicole Barnhardt shouldn’t have been beaten from 25 or so yards on Christine Sinclair’s floated wonder goal.

That big crowd in Chicagoland was augmented by the ESPN2 audience that tuned in for the first game of the league’s new tv deal with the Worldwide Leader.

Once – and future?- USWNT striker Lynn Williams outdid her Courage teammate Jessica McDonald when she converted her goal-scoring chance. McDonald would spurn a good opportunity soon after, to give the visitors from North Carolina the lead.

Vanessa Di Bernardo leveled for the hosts and Australia’s brilliant Sam Kerr won it for the home team with a beautiful goal that would seem very likely to bring fans back for more.

With Morgan unavailable, Orlando rookie Marisa Viggiano proved ready for her closeup. She scored the first goal of her professional career to lead the Pride to a win over Sky Blue FC, a victory that kept the Pride from sinking to the bottom of the standings.

Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner Megan Rapinoe and her Seattle Reign had the week off, so she and USWNT teammate Allie Long won’t be expected back in league play until Sunday, July 8th when the Reign host the star-studded Chicago Red Stars.

Also read: NWSL title odds

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Peter Nolan

Peter Nolan has been on the soccer beat for many years now, covering the United States Men's and Women's teams, from the SnowClasico to Azteca and back again. Along with the US national teams, Peter will provide insight into the MLS and NWSL, with a focus on the NY Red Bulls and NYCFC.

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