NWSL Excerpt: Houston improves, Kornieck shines, and Barnes’ milestone

Quick
Hits
  • After their struggles in the Challenge Cup, the Houston Dash have started to turn things around in the regular season
  • With a change in position, Taylor Kornieck is shining with the San Diego Wave
  • Lauren Barnes of the OL Reign became the first player in NWSL history to record 15,000 regular season minutes

This piece is an excerpt from this Monday’s Weekend Recap.

The Houston Dash, Angel City, San Diego Wave, Racing Louisville, and Chicago Red Stars added three points to their season totals this weekend, while the OL Reign and Washington Spirit held each other scoreless for the second time in three games. There was so much going on this weekend that we’re debuting a new “one team, one player, one moment” format where we touch on one team, one pla…okay, you get it. 

Let’s get to it.

Team: Houston Dash start turning the ship around

The Houston Dash handed the Portland Thorns their first loss of the 2022 regular season on Saturday, thanks to goals from Rachel Daly and Sophie Schmidt. This was the Dash’s fourth win all-time against Portland and the second consecutive game where they’ve beaten the Thorns at Providence Park. After opening their season with a loss to the San Diego Wave at home, the Dash have secured seven points during a three-game stretch on the road and now sit in fourth place in the NWSL standings. Their recent form is markedly better than their Challenge Cup showing in which they posted only two wins across six games. 

Since their disappointing Challenge Cup, the Dash’s coaching personnel has changed. James Clarkson, the team’s former head coach, was suspended indefinitely by the league on April 26. The Dash’s assistant coach Sarah Lowdon has since stepped in as interim head coach following Clarkson’s absence.

With Clarkson at the helm, the Dash played a 4-3-3 last season and tested out a 4-2-3-1 in the Challenge Cup. They’ve since adapted a 3-5-2 and have found success with Lowdon’s emphasis on defensive organization and off-the-ball movement. They’ve only conceded two goals through four games with Lowdon in charge, which is an improvement from the 13 conceded goals through six games under Clarkson. On average, the Dash are conceding 1.7 fewer goals per game under Lowdon (0.5 goals conceded/game vs. 2.2 goals conceded/game). 

Sticking with the defensive narrative, Jane Campbell also had an impressive showing in goal on Saturday. She posted a clean sheet and four saves, though defender Katie Naughton made a goal-line clearance in the 16th minute to keep the score even. With her performances through Week 3 of the regular season, however, Campbell and the Dash were posting the worst goals conceded per game ratio with 1.75 goals/game. With that said, Saturday was definitely an improvement. 

Player: Taylor Kornieck shines in San Diego

Taylor Kornieck recorded her first assist of the 2022 regular season in Sunday’s 1-0 victory against a winless North Carolina side. Kornieck has been a key player in San Diego’s midfield so far this season, appearing in all 11 of the Wave’s games in 2022 and starting 10 times. 

Rewinding to her days before the NWSL, Kornieck was a standout center midfielder at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her collegiate play earned her a pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft and she was selected third overall by the Orlando Pride. Kornieck didn’t take the field in an Orlando jersey until 2021, though, because the Pride withdrew from the first edition of the 2020 Challenge Cup after a team-wide COVID-19 outbreak. When Kornieck finally suited up in Orlando, she played out of her natural position, often lining up as a winger.

Since returning to the center of the pitch with San Diego in 2022, she’s on her way to having a break-out season. Through 893 minutes over 11 games in 2022 (Challenge Cup and regular season combined), Kornieck has outperformed her 2021 statistics in several major categories. Note that all data are normalized per 96’ and higher values are italicized.

Data courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.

Granted, Kornieck’s 2022 sample size is roughly 1,000 minutes smaller than 2021’s, but these numbers are promising and serve as reason to keep our eyes on Kornieck and the Wave this season. 

Moment: Lauren Barnes reaches 15,000 regular season minutes in the NWSL

During OL Reign’s match against the Washington Spirit on Sunday, Reign defender Lauren Barnes became the first player in league history to record 15,000 NWSL regular season minutes. She’s been with the club since its inaugural season in 2013, when she was selected as the second pick in the NWSL Supplemental Draft.

Barnes is no stranger to these accolades. In her ninth season with the Reign in 2021, she was the second player in league history to record 150 appearances and the first player to do so with the same club. 

In 2022, Barnes is holding down a backline that’s allowed only eight goals on 10.05 expected-goals against through 10 games, combining the Challenge Cup and the first four games of the regular season. Even so, the Reign have been winless so far this regular season, posting three draws and securing only three points. This isn’t immediate cause for panic, though. 

The Reign’s 2021 season didn’t start off very strong either, and they still secured the second-overall seed in the 2021 NWSL Playoffs. Given the caliber of the Reign’s roster, head coach Laura Harvey’s record of success, and Barnes’ leadership, it’s very likely that OL Reign will get back to their winning ways and emerge from the bottom of the table in the coming weeks.