Ex-NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush under scrutiny over abuse report
Plush served as NWSL commissioner from 2014-17.
Just Women’s Sports’ NWSL power rankings are back after a two-week break, and while we went on pause, the league chaos definitely did not.
As the Red Stars drop down the standings and OL Reign balance on the edge of losing their playoff position, teams continue to prove that anything can happen in the remaining six and a half weeks of the regular season. The NWSL’s East Coast teams have consistently been at the bottom of the standings. This past week, however, the last-place North Carolina Courage tied the No. 1 Portland Thorns, and the No. 8 Orlando Pride beat the third-place San Diego Wave. If that trend continues, the rankings might not be divided into “West Coast, best coast” and “East Coast, least coast” for long.
Only three teams remain in the same spot from the last power rankings on Aug. 3. Here is where the league’s 12 teams stand at this point in the season:
Gotham is in a period of transition. After the club parted ways with head coach Scott Parkinson last week, Beverly Goebel Yanez filled in until interim coach Hue Menzies arrived in time for their 4-1 loss to the Reign on Sunday. The team has struggled to find results since making a number of high-profile acquisitions in the offseason, and moving on from a coach who was well-liked by the players will require an adjustment period.
The Courage are the best/worst team this league has ever seen. Offensively, anyway. Despite sitting in last place in the standings, they continue to lead the league in possession, they have scored 23 goals in 12 games, and they tied the first-place Thorns last week. Against the Kansas City Current on Saturday, however, they lost 4-3, again conceding goals at the same rate that they scored them. The Courage have now given up three or more goals in each of their last three games.
There isn’t much left to say about the Spirit. It’s the same narrative every time. They’re a dominant team that can often out-possess, out-shoot and pass with more accuracy than their opponents, like they did against the No. 1 Thorns on Wednesday. Where they come up short is in getting that finishing touch to hit the back of the net. The reigning champions need to fix it fast, because with only eight games left, the playoffs are about to be out of reach.
Jumping three spots in the power rankings after two draws would seem laughable, and it wouldn’t have happened if Gotham, Washington and North Carolina hadn’t moved down. There is something to be said about Racing Louisville tying the No. 2 Houston Dash on Friday while playing down a player for 48 minutes. Thanks to hard work and discipline, Louisville controlled much of the second half. They carried the momentum over from their previous game, a draw with the Spirit, in which Louisville could have just as easily walked away with three points.
Undefeated across six games since the beginning of July and inching closer to playoff positioning, it’s becoming harder to remember that this is supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Orlando Pride. Most impressively, Orlando claimed a 1-0 win on Saturday over the San Diego Wave, who were in first place for most of the season. The win snapped the Pride’s three-draw streak and would have pushed them up the standings if there was a team ahead that deserved to drop.
A draw and a win in the last two weeks kept Angel City at seventh in the league standings, but it won’t be long until they move into a playoff spot. Much like the Pride, they would also have risen in the power rankings if a top-six team deserved to move to seventh. Against the Red Stars on Sunday, they dominated for 65 minutes and held onto the 1-0 lead until the end. Savannah McCaskill, who scored the lone goal, called the performance a testament to their growth.
The Reign have continued to quietly stick around. They evened out their 2-1 loss to Houston with a 4-1 win over Gotham on Sunday, scoring the most goals in a match all season. There was a little more hype at Lumen Field that day with OL Reign’s sister club, Olympique Lyonnais, visiting from France. The Reign will need to maintain that momentum because they are getting dangerously close to losing their grip on a playoff spot.
The Red Stars have been off their rhythm throughout the last month, winning just one of their last four games. Teams in the lower half of the standings are starting to get desperate to secure a playoff spot, as Angel City showed in their 1-0 win over Chicago on Sunday. Especially at this point in the season, Chicago can’t take any opponent lightly.
The first two weeks of August haven’t gone in the Wave’s favor. A poor defensive performance cost them against the Current in a 2-1 loss on Aug. 7. They improved against the Orlando Pride a week later, but were unable to find the back of the net and suffered another defeat, 1-0. With just one match left at the University of San Diego’s Torero Stadium, they might get a boost when they move into their brand-new Snapdragon Stadium. Until then, they’ll have to find their way out of fourth place in the power rankings.
For the first time in franchise history, the Current have cracked into second place in points. With two wins in the last two weeks against San Diego and North Carolina, Kansas City earned the biggest jump in this week’s power rankings. In a 4-3 victory over the typically high-scoring Courage for their fourth straight road win, the Current showed they can take over a match in crunch time.
Houston has no more problems. A couple of hiccups in early July sent them back a bit, but they’ve been on the rise ever since, defeating the Reign 2-1 and drawing with Louisville 0-0 in their most recent games. It’s not ideal that for the rest of the season they’ll be without star player Rachel Daly, who left for Aston Villa, but the team has already gotten accustomed to life after Daly. When she was away all of July for the Euros, the Dash scored nine goals and picked up two wins. The addition of Ebony Salmon has been key to the team’s potent offense.
Portland is the obvious choice for first in these rankings. They’re the only team with a single loss — three fewer than the next-closest team — and the only team with a goal differential in the double digits at +21. In the last two weeks, they beat Washington 2-1 and tied with North Carolina 3-3 to extend their unbeaten streak to 11 games.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.
Plush served as NWSL commissioner from 2014-17.
Sauerbrunn plays for the Thorns, whose leaders have been caught up in scandal.
The news comes in the wake of U.S. Soccer's bombshell report.
One investigation could only do so much, U.S. Soccer's lead investigator said.
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