Merritt Paulson’s exit leads to Thorns social media furor
Sydney Leroux called out those who praised the owner.
The NWSL landscape hasn’t gotten any clearer a month into the regular season. The two expansion teams are at the top of the standings, the 2022 Challenge Cup champions are at the bottom, and it’s a free-for-all everywhere in between.
To add to the chaos of it all, here are this week’s NWSL power rankings:
No one really deserved the last-place spot this week, but since the Current didn’t make a strong case to move up in the power rankings, they remain at the bottom. Considering head coach Matt Potter and four players were absent due to COVID-19 protocols, a 1-0 loss to Angel City FC off an own goal isn’t something to get caught up on. Their 2-2 draw with the Pride could have been a 2-1 win if not for Orlando’s penalty shot in the sixth minute of stoppage time. So, luck hasn’t been entirely on their side, but they’ll still need to show more urgency right from the kickoff to move up the rankings.
Gotham can blame the crossbar for being ranked 11th. They hit the woodwork five times in their only game in the last two weeks, a 1-0 loss to Racing Louisville on Sunday. Having struggled to break down Louisville’s transition game until the second half, Gotham could have easily come out of the contest with a point. And it would have been welcome for the embattled club, still looking for answers after acquiring several high-profile players in the offseason.
Playing three games in eight days was not ideal, and yet the Pride came out of it with four points to move into fifth place in the NWSL standings. To stay there, they’ll need to be more consistent than in their 4-2 loss to the Red Stars four days after a lucky 2-1 win over the Challenge Cup champion North Carolina Courage. The Pride scored early in each of their wins, and they’ll find even more success if they can muster momentum in the games where they don’t manage those early leads.
Houston went into a grueling stretch of three consecutive games on the road and attacked it head on, coming away with two wins and a tie. So far this season, the Dash have shown they can adapt to their opponents with formation and strategy adjustments. The Thorns, for example, often look to take early leads. In their matchup last Saturday, Houston went up 2-0 before the half and Portland looked lost. The Dash still have a lot of room to grow this season, but some of the foundational elements are there.
One of just three teams that’s played only three matches so far, the Red Stars are already at six points and halfway up the standings — and that’s with eight players still ruled out on the availability report. Mallory Pugh returned from a concussion on Sunday and contributed two goals and an assist in Chicago’s 4-2 win over Orlando. A team’s potential shouldn’t be based off of one player, but Pugh’s energy on the dribble is a much-needed weapon for the Red Stars’ attack.
For the first time in club history, Racing Louisville is on a winning streak. The 2021 expansion team followed up two draws with a mid-week shutout of San Diego Wave FC and a 1-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC for a four-game unbeaten streak. After adding a number of new players to the 2022 roster, Louisville should only get stronger when Dr. Nadia Nadim rejoins the team following her recovery from a torn ACL.
The reigning Challenge Cup champions are walking a very fine line in their early contention for a playoff spot. Debinha was the only player with any strong chances in North Carolina’s loss to San Diego on Sunday, striking twice from distance. The Courage struggled with their defensive transition and swinging the play. Against Orlando last Wednesday, they took control in the final 20 minutes, cutting the Pride’s lead in half and finding the back of the net twice in stoppage time, but both goals were called offside. The Courage might consider inserting Brianna Pinto into the starting lineup and infusing their attack with energy from the opening whistle.
One spot behind San Diego in the standings is fellow 2022 expansion club Angel City, which has played one fewer match. With three wins and a loss, the Los Angeles-based club continues to exceed expectations, most recently recording 1-0 shutouts of the Kansas City Current and 2021 NWSL champion Washington Spirit. Head coach Freya Coombe has been looking for consistency from her team, and they’ve showed in the past two weeks that they have it. The next step for Angel City is to find momentum and take control of games in the first half.
Playing three games in one week, the Spirit recorded two draws and a loss to Angel City FC, which could have easily been a tie if the referee hadn’t called back Emily Sonnett’s goal due to a questionable offside. Considering the competitiveness of their games so far this season, the Spirit have plenty of talent to build upon and plenty of time to rebound.
Three seems to be the magic number the Reign: three points, three goals, three draws and one of three teams with no wins. The results don’t reflect the team’s dangerous attack and possession abilities. In the past two weeks, they’ve battled the Thorns and Spirit in back-to-back draws. Their consistency will be tested in the next couple of weeks against the Current and the league-leading Wave.
Since the last edition of our power rankings, the Thorns have had two draws and a loss, snapping their seven-game regular season unbeaten streak, which dates back to 2021. They might be looking back on this stretch later in the season wishing they had taken better advantage of four straight games at home. Portland’s main issue has been finishing, but it should only be a matter of time before the forwards start gelling and connecting on Janine Beckie’s countless crosses.
The 2022 expansion club sits atop the standings for the fourth straight week. The Wave also lead the league in goals behind Alex Morgan’s six. The Wave uncharacteristically weren’t able to set up any dangerous attacks against Racing Louisville, who handed the club their first loss of the season off of a free kick. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and the Wave’s backline have made big strides since the Challenge Cup and are making a case as one of the best defensive units in the league, conceding just two goals and recording three shutouts already this season.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.
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