NWSL began season four this past weekend, a historic event after its two predecessors, WUSA and WPS, folded in season three. Moreover the league looks solid in its fourth season, as opposed to the shaky uncertainty that followed the other leagues after their third years.
There is some uncertainty around the league due to the WNT's ongoing wage discrimination case and the possibility of a strike against US Soccer, which pays WNT player salaries in NWSL as part of the federation's subsidization of the league. Player representative Becky Sauerbrunn has been adamant about keeping club and country separate during media calls, but it's difficult to see how they could possibly do so when federation money is so closely entwined with the league in terms of national team players.
Regardless, it was an intense opening weekend, with five games, 12 goals, a slightly botched marketing campaign launch, and a couple of upsets, including one that ended the Seattle Reign's two-and-a-half-year home unbeaten streak.
Crystal Dunn (WAS): Dunn did what Dunn does, which is drive into the box and play merry havoc with defenses. She picked up an assist on Washington's early goal.
Ali Krieger (WAS): Krieger did a decent job of containing her side of the field and should be a stable influence on the Spirit back line as the season progresses.
Whitney Engen (BOS): Engen helped keep Boston's back line organized in the face of increasing Spirit pressure and helped them stay calm and recover without conceding after the first Spirit goal.
FC Kansas City 0 - 1 WNY Flash
Heather O'Reilly (FCKC): Not a great start for O'Reilly, who missed a penalty kick that would have at least salvaged a point and got a yellow card for a bad challenge on Jaelene Hinkle.
Heather O'Reilly's tackle that caused Jaelene Hinkle's injury for anyone who missed it. https://t.co/8JXx2l50ti— John D. Halloran (@JohnDHalloran) April 18, 2016
Becky Sauerbrunn (FCKC): An uncharacteristic and perhaps unlucky mistake from Sauerbrunn as her handball in the box was the cause for the penalty kick that gave WNY the go-ahead goal.
Jaelene Hinkle (WNY): Hinkle's time with the WNT has helped mature her a little, although that didn't save her from O'Reilly's crunching tackle from behind.
Samantha Mewis (WNY): Mewis nailed the PK for the Flash, ultimately winning them the game, and it's becoming more and more obvious that this team was built around her.
Morgan Brian (HOU): Out for the game while she still recovers from a hamstring injury she picked up in WNT camp.
Julie Johnston (CRS): Johnston will have to step up her organization of that back line if Chicago wants to stay competitive this season.
Alyssa Naeher (CRS): Naeher probably had some flashbacks to her time in Boston with this game as she kept the scoreline reasonable with a few big saves despite getting let down by her defense.
Christen Press (CRS): Press scored Chicago's only goal, pouncing on a ball through that somehow eluded several Houston defenders and finishing smoothly.
Seattle Reign 1 - 2 Sky Blue FC
Hope Solo (SEA): She saved one penalty kick, which looked like it would keep Seattle in it, but then had a sub-par game, which wasn't helped by Seattle never quite seeming to get into higher gear.
Kelley O'Hara (SBFC): She gets the assist on Sky Blue's first goal of the season, sending in a great cross to find Tasha Kai (yes, that Tasha Kai) in front of goal.
Portland Thorns 2 - 1 Orlando Pride
Tobin Heath (POR): Heath was everywhere for Portland, working hard as an engine in the midfield and notching assists on both goals.
Lindsey Horan (POR): Horan also had a good night for Portland, scoring an easy goal while she was left unattended by Orlando's defense.
Meghan Klingenberg (POR): Good work from Klingenberg on the night, although her connection to her WNT teammates was stronger than to her club teammates. That's to be expected and will probably work itself out over the next couple of months.
Emily Sonnett (POR): Sonnett had a full 90 in her professional debut and hung in there with the rest of the back line, her time in the WNT clearly helping her avoid some rookie jitters.
Allie Long (POR): Long was asked to work in a deeper midfield role by Mark Parsons and she almost had a goal on a great header that was called back for offside, though replay indicates that Long was on.
Ashlyn Harris (ORL): Not much Harris could do on either goal, especially the second one when Lindsey Horan was left to her own devices in the box. Harris came off her line but it was too late.
Alex Morgan (ORL): A quiet night for Morgan, who has a lot of expectations riding on her now that she's leading the charge for a brand new club that is referred to more often than not as "Alex Morgan's Orlando Pride."