Red Stars’ free-agent exodus leaves future even murkier
Three club veterans are leaving in free agency after a tumultuous year.
The NWSL returned this past weekend and delivered plenty of action as the league’s hierarchy continues to come into focus. Two teams scored late stoppage-time goals, four are on at least five-game unbeaten streaks, and every squad is competing with a different lineup as players spread out across the globe for international duty.
July competition could lead to some shake-ups as new talent steps in. For now, teams have stayed fairly consistent despite the roster changes, and so have the power rankings (click here for our last edition). Only the top- and bottom-tier clubs have shuffled slightly.
Let’s get into it.
In the last power rankings, Racing Louisville was one spot ahead of the last-place Orlando Pride. Then the two teams played each other Sunday to a 2-2 draw. Despite falling into an early 2-0 hole, the Pride clawed back and had the better run of play overall, earning them the nod over Louisville this week. Racing Louisville also continued to prove why they’re the best team in the league at converting direct free kicks. Savannah DeMelo scored her second free-kick goal on Sunday, over six weeks since her first successful attempt against the San Diego Wave. She is the only NWSL player to record two such goals this season.
As they chipped away at the 2-0 deficit in the second half of Sunday’s game, the Pride found success with combination plays against Louisville. They had a 54 percent advantage in possession and were the better team at capitalizing on their chances in front of goal. Making six changes to the starting lineup since their last game, a 6-0 loss to the Portland Thorns, the Pride also welcomed back defender Carrie Lawrence for the first time since her injury on May 27.
Gotham had the momentum early against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, creating multiple scoring chances, outshooting Chicago 14-10 and registering 20 crosses throughout the match. But they lost their focus 25 minutes in after the Red Stars scored two goals fewer than 10 minutes apart and suffered their second consecutive 3-0 defeat and third straight loss overall. Head coach Scott Parkinson took the blame on Saturday, saying he needs to better prepare his team to execute their tactical plans.
The Courage, still at the bottom of the NWSL standings, have played fewer games than every team except Gotham and are having a hard time finding a rhythm. The good news for the Courage is that, with a goal differential of -2, they are playing teams close. Until a 2-0 loss to OL Reign on Friday, each of their losses have come by one goal. North Carolina didn’t necessarily play poorly on Friday, but they’ll have to start gelling better as a unit if they want to build on their 2022 Challenge Cup win with a playoff berth.
Despite controlling possession for most of the game Sunday, the Spirit had a hard time getting shots off against San Diego without their star attacking trio of Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez. As the Wave doubled up Washington in shots, 12-6, the Spirit were busy defensively, making 21 clearances and 14 tackles and winning 48 duels. They managed to reduce San Diego’s attack to mostly long balls and waited until the second half to build more of an attack. Since finishing the Challenge Cup as runners-up, the reigning NWSL champions continue to be in limbo — not playing poorly, but not making a convincing case for the playoffs, either.
Coach Ward praises the adaptability of the team on the road yesterday— Washington Spirit (@WashSpirit) July 4, 2022
▪️ Coach Kris Ward
▪️ Sam Staab
▪️ Jordan Baggett pic.twitter.com/HNGLjXqHQh
The Current continued their steady rise over the weekend. With a 2-1 win over Houston on Friday, they picked up their first regular-season road victory in franchise history and are now on a five-game unbeaten streak. In a physical match where the Dash drew five yellow cards, goalkeeper AD Franch made impressive saves while the rest of the squad played with a lot of heart, a combination that’s emblematic of Kansas City’s team identity this season.
After losing star forward Christen Press to an ACL tear, Angel City received a boost in the attack last week with the acquisition of former U.S. women’s national team player Sydney Leroux from the Orlando Pride. Against Portland on Friday, Angel City was having a tougher time winning balls in the attacking third, but Leroux will help with that once she settles in with the club. The team also struggled to contain Portland’s crosses but individually, there were many successes, such as Lily Nabet doing well in possession in her first start of the season.
The Dash are losing their grip on the dominant results they had at the beginning of the season. A lot of it comes down to their finishing. They created dangerous chances in Friday’s 2-1 loss to Kansas City, but they weren’t able to capitalize (their only goal came from a Current own goal off a Houston cross in the 10th minute of stoppage time). Due to the international window, the Dash are without some of their top attackers right now, like Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince and Maria Sánchez. They likely need at least another week to adjust.
With a 2-0 win over the Courage on Friday, the Reign remained unbeaten at Lumen Field across all competitions. They have eight players away on international duty — the most of any NWSL team — but after a slow start Friday, they managed to find their footing toward the end of the first half. They opened the second half with two shots and a goal within the first seven minutes, setting the tone for the rest of the game. With players like Jess Fishlock, Ally Watt, Bethany Balcer and Phallon Tullis-Joyce sticking around during the international window, the Reign and their impressive amount of depth will be just fine throughout July.
The Thorns needed a win to stay neck-and-neck with Chicago and San Diego at the top of the NWSL standings. Instead, they drew 1-1 with Angel City FC in a game that nearly resulted in a loss. The Thorns’ dramatic stoppage-time equalizer in the 96th minute saved the game and their unbeaten streak, extending it to six. Considering Portland had six players away on international duty, while Angel City was missing only three, they played a fairly even game. They started on the wrong foot after giving up a penalty kick goal in the second minute, but they regrouped to steal a point.
With a 2-1 win over the Spirit in front of a sold-out crowd on Sunday, San Diego extended its unbeaten streak at home to five games. The absence of seven international players gave others a chance to step up and show off the team’s depth. Belle Briede picked up her first NWSL regular-season goal, while Makenzy Doniak — who is normally a substitute but started on Sunday — scored for the second consecutive game. Critically, defender Abby Dahlkemper also returned to the starting lineup after recovering from broken ribs and helped steady the backline as the team adjusts to the changes from the international window.
The Red Stars took their time getting adjusted against Gotham FC. After taking control of the game with two goals by the 25th minute, they connected on 82 percent of their passes and maintained 55 percent of the possession. The defense put on a solid showing despite being outshot 14-10, winning 45 percent of their tackles, making 12 clearances and registering four blocks. With the 3-0 win, Chicago extended its own unbeaten streak to eight games — the longest active streak of any team in the league.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.
Three club veterans are leaving in free agency after a tumultuous year.
The Red Stars and NWSL declined to comment.
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