NWSL, week 9 in review: Plenty of penalties

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Week nine was a crazy one, full of penalties, dives, cards of every color, a little controversy and a lot of goals. And that was just Saturday.

There are plenty of streaks to talk about after week 9. There's Seattle, now unbeaten in 11, and yet to lose a game this season. A five game unbeaten run from Kansas City also features three consecutive wins and three consecutive clean sheets from Nicole Barnhart. The Washington Spirit are unbeaten in six. Even the Houston Dash have put together a two-game run. There are streaks the other way, too. Sky Blue FC have now dropped three in a row, Portland's done the same. Boston have dropped their last two, too. But for all the streaks that continued in week 9, there were two that ended, and they are bigger and longer than any winning, or losing, run.

From April 13, 2013 - the day the first-ever NWSL game was played - until this weekend, two players had played every minute of every game in league history. FC Kansas City's Jen Buczkowski and Sky Blue FC's CoCo Goodson had both not missed a single minute; not in all of 2013, and not so far this season. But on Saturday, in the 62nd minute, Buczkowski's streak would end, replaced by Amy LePeilbet. A day later, Goodson too would visit the bench for the very first time, replaced by Lindsi Cutshall at the half. Buczkowski played 3,122 consecutive regular season minutes, the most of any player in league history. With Sky Blue having played one fewer game so far this season, Goodson's streak ends at 3,015. Both also played in one playoff game, Kansas City's needing extra time and bringing Buczkowski's total to 3,242, while Sky Blue's 90-minute postseason loss gives Goodson 3,105 consecutive minutes total.

It was a strange and sort of unceremonious end of an era, indeed, and one lost among a weekend that featured 14 goals, one red card, five penalty kicks and fifteen yellow cards. But it was also an end that feels kind of appropriate somehow; to say goodbye to that last remaining thing from the NWSL's beginnings as we reach the halfway mark in a second season that looks nothing like the first.

Boston does as Boston does
It was only two weeks ago that Boston pulled out a 4-1 win over the visiting Portland Thorns. With most of the Breakers usual starters on the bench, Boston - because, or in spite of, that shakeup - seemed on the road to turning things around. But that game now seems like it was in some other season, long ago, and like that surprise roster move from Tom Durkin, the win over the Thorns now seems more fluke than anything else. With a loss to Kansas City on Saturday, the Breakers have now dropped two straight and remain at the bottom of the table, four points from eighth place Sky Blue and 13 out of a playoff spot.

It's not just that the Breakers keep losing though, it's that they keep finding new and interesting ways to do it. On Saturday it was thanks to two first half penalties, both converted by Lauren Holiday, to give FC Kansas City the 2-0. With the win, the Blues leapfrog Chicago and idle Washington into the second spot, with an eight-point gap separating Kansas City from league-leaders Seattle.

Bad news debuts
Portland got Alex Morgan and Rachel Van Hollebeke back on the field for the first time since 2013. Portland also saw season debuts from Vero Boquete and Stephanie Catley, and Michelle Betos, although that one was definitely not part of the plan. Portland lost - by the largest margin in NWSL history.

And Portland lost, by the largest margin in NWSL history, to a team that hadn't won a game in a month. Western NY was winless in their last six coming into Saturday night, and facing a Thorns team they'd already lost to once this season. The Flash, without the injured Abby Wambach, managed five goals, including two each from Sam Kerr and Carli Lloyd and one from McCall Zerboni.

It was the 26th minute when things really started to fall apart for Portland. The Thorns were already down a goal thanks to Zerboni, when Nikki Marshall's errant backpass forced Nadine Angerer to make a play against the onrushing Kerr. Anger dove for the ball and Kerr, just kind of, um, dove. The Flash were awarded the penalty, Angerer was ejected - the second red card for Portland in as many games - and Betos couldn't do much against Lloyd's kick from the spot. Then it was 2-0, and then three and Western NY, who lost to a similarly ten-playered Portland in the 2013 final, just kept piling on. The Flash took a 4-0 lead into halftime, added another on the other side of the break, spoiled everyone's debut and sent Portland that much further into the bottom half of the table. The Flash and Thorns are now in fifth and sixth respectively, both tied on 14 points and five behind fourth-place Chicago for the final playoff spot. Portland has now lost three straight, and been outscored 10-1 in those three games.

Saturday, brought to you by the National Association for the Advancement on Penalty Kicks in NWSL
Because two in Kansas City and one in Portland were not enough, this game also featured not one, but two, penalties all its own. The first meeting of the season between Seattle and Chicago also featured whopping nine yellow cards, a bloody-faced Jess Fishlock, some Rory Dames post-game ref-blaming Twitter action, and a probably ejection-worthy Julianne Sitch elbow to the face of Keelin Winters.

Chicago had a 1-0 lead thanks to Emily Van Egmond, but Julie Johnston's from-behind tackle on Bev Goebel gave the Reign their first PK of the night, which Kim Little converted to tie the game at one. Sydney Leroux put Seattle up by a goal four minutes later, sending a shot from the 18 that looked way too high, but somehow floated back down and over the outstretched Karina LeBlanc. Little would add her second of the night, and league-leading 11th of the season, in the 77th minute; another penalty, because that's just how this works.

Battle for the least worst
Leave it to the bottom of the table to play a game that ends 3-0 and features not a single penalty and only two cards, both of which were only yellow and neither of which occurred before the 86th minute. Unlike basement BFF's Boston, Sky Blue FC can't even manage to lose in an interesting way.

Houston took the lead in the 10th minute on Tiffany McCarty's third of the season, Ella Masar doubled that lead ten minutes later, and McCarty added her second of the night in the 79th as the Dash rolled over Sky Blue FC. Or as Sky Blue FC rolled over and the Dash just kind of did stuff around them while they looked for bugs in the grass or oooh look is that a bunny? The Jersey side had plenty of chances thanks to a few missteps from Erin McLeod, but Sky Blue has the second-worst goals for number in the league for a reason.

Houston's second-straight win puts the Dash into seventh, while Sky Blue takes their three-game losing streak into eighth.

Scores

Wednesday
Chicago Red Stars 0 - 1 Washington Spirit
FC Kansas City 1 - 0 Western NY Flash

Saturday
FC Kansas City 2 - 0 Boston Breakers
Portland Thorns FC 0 - 5 Western NY Flash
Seattle Reign FC 3 - 1 Chicago Red Stars

Sunday
Sky Blue FC 0 - 3 Houston Dash

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