Red Stars’ free-agent exodus leaves future even murkier
Three club veterans are leaving in free agency after a tumultuous year.
After two weeks off, Just Women’s Sports‘ NWSL weekly power rankings are back and, in typical NWSL fashion, are full of chaos.
Most notably, the Chicago Red Stars move out of the top three for the first time since May as the Houston Dash surge into their spot. The Kansas City Current slide down for reasons outside of their control, while the North Carolina Courage rise despite playing to a 3-3 draw on Friday.
The full season is taken into account in these rankings, but teams’ recent performances are also heavily weighted, which means some squads might be two or three places off of where they sit in the league standings. (For the last installment of JWS’ power rankings, click here.)
Here we go.
Since June 11, all of Louisville’s results have had a maximum one-goal difference, and none of those seven games have been a win. They dominated the beginning of the second half against the Portland Thorns on Friday, before giving up a second goal in the 2-1 loss. Louisville has a lot of promising pieces, but in a league as competitive as the NWSL, they need to put them all together on a consistent basis. The six losses they’ve recorded in their last nine games are the most of any team in the league in that stretch.
Gotham continues to lead the league in losses after falling 4-2 to the Houston Dash, their fifth defeat in the last nine games. Gotham controlled the tempo at the beginning of the first and second halves against Houston, and even scored a goal just four minutes in. But as both teams settled into their possession, the Dash quickly assumed the upper hand and outdid Gotham in all areas except for blocks (2-1), clearances (24-11) and ground duels won (52 percent).
The Courage’s two-spot rise up the power rankings is generous, considering their last game was a draw. It would have been one spot if Gotham and Louisville hadn’t both moved down. North Carolina also suffered in the last power rankings after they had to postpone their match due to COVID-19 protocols. Currently 12th in the league standings, they’ve played four fewer games than the Spirit and Wave and three fewer than most teams, so the team’s situation is not just about poor results. They’re the best at possession in the league and are lethal in transition. They were particularly relentless against Washington on Friday, refusing to let them walk away with the win and answering every goal the Spirit scored to complete the 3-3 draw.
The Washington Spirit have found success creating and finishing their chances, and that’s partly where the momentum ends. They scored three times against the Courage on Friday, but they also conceded three, and it cost them what could have been their first win since the season opener. The Spirit did well in possession, recording an 83.7 percent passing accuracy, but they also allowed the Courage to connect on 83 percent of their passes. Needless to say, The offense is there for Washington, especially with Trinity Rodman back in the mix, but they need the same energy on the other side of the ball.
The Pride found their stride in the first half against the Current on Sunday, scoring the opening goal in the 25th minute and doubling their lead just seconds into the second half. They couldn’t adjust to the pressure that Kansas City piled on afterwards, however, ultimately conceding two goals for a 2-2 draw. Orlando’s lack of hunger in the second half was concerning, since the Current are a lower-ranked playoff contender that Orlando should set their sights on chasing down.
Angel City came out flying against OL Reign on Saturday, with Cari Roccaro scoring the opening goal nine minutes into the game and Savannah McCaskill putting them up 2-0 in the 28th. ACFC didn’t carry the momentum into the second half, however, giving up three goals to fall 3-2. Despite having less possession than the Reign, they connected on 76.5 percent of their passes and effectively used their space on the dribble. Overall, a loss like that should result in a drop in the rankings. But after Angel City fell two spots in the last power rankings due to a postponed game, they deserve a second chance.
It took 45 minutes for the Current to wake up on Sunday, but once they hit their stride, they came back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with the Pride and extend their unbeaten streak to eight games. By the second half, they cleaned up their passing and increased the tempo to put pressure on Orlando. As coach Matt Potter said Sunday, “You can see that we haven’t come away from too many games in the second half where we haven’t played in a manner that fits our identity.” They could have easily stayed at fourth in the power rankings, but with Houston moving up, the Reign or the Current had to get bumped down.
The Reign have so much potential, and yet they’ve only won once in their last four games. With a dynamic attack outshooting Angel City 25-9 and registering an 81.6 percent passing accuracy on Sunday, OL Reign showed what their capable of in the 3-2 comeback win. They’re second in the league in shots on target per match, but their six draws this season indicate they need to be more clinical in the final third. That’s what happened Tuesday in a 1-1 draw with Racing Louisville, where the Reign outshot their opponents 25-6 — with 11 of them on target — but were unable to get around goalkeeper Katie Lund, who made a league-record 12 saves in the game.
The Red Stars haven’t won a game since July 2. With a 1-0 loss to San Diego on Saturday, Chicago dropped to fifth place in the standings. They put up a fight, though, maintaining 59 percent of the possession and a 77.6 passing accuracy. Even though they outshot the Wave 20-9, only four of their shots were on target, tying them with the Wave for shots on goal.
With a 70.6 percent passing accuracy and 51 percent of the possession against Gotham on Sunday, the Dash stuck to their high-press game plan and it paid off. An early mistake in the opening four minutes cost the Dash a goal against, but they didn’t let it get to them as they went on to bury four straight, including two within four minutes of each other. They’ve now scored four goals or more in four games this season, picking up enough points to take the Red Stars’ place in the top three of the NWSL standings and these power rankings.
The Wave were lucky not to come away with a draw against the Red Stars on Saturday after sustaining 20 shots against. Thanks to Naomi Girma making goal-line saves and 17-year-old Jaedyn Shaw scoring her debut goal, the Wave came out on top, 1-0. Chicago had the majority of possession, but San Diego did well defensively to hold onto the lead, winning 54 duels, 10 tackles and 38 clearances.
With their 2-1 victory over Racing Louisville on Friday, the Thorns extended their unbeaten streak to nine games. They’ve scored two or more goals in nine of their last 10 matches, and they were missing seven of their star players in half of those games due to overlapping international tournaments. Over the last four games, 10 different Thorns players have scored. Meanwhile, Portland’s leading scorer, Sophia Smith, returned from the U.S. women’s national team Friday to record her ninth goal of the season. The club was on a tear in July, and now that world-class players like Smith are back on the pitch, the Thorns’ chances are looking better than ever.
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.
The New York City-area club is making waves.
Sophia Smith and Naomi Girma earned the most nods.
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