We’ve now seen every NWSL team play at least twice this Challenge Cup, which is all the time I need to start making extreme generalizations based on limited information. This may be a preseason tournament with incomplete rosters, but whoever said hot takes needed data to back them?
On that note, here’s five:
1. The North Carolina Courage are going to be fine
Losing Sam Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Crystal Dunn and Jaelene Daniels in a single offseason would rightfully make anyone nervous. But Jess McDonald has looked like her old self, Merritt Mathias is back (see: THAT goal) and Debinha is still Debinha.
🤯 MATHIAS LIKES HER CHIPS WITH SOME DIP 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Xy0nlyQuix— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 10, 2021
🤯 MATHIAS LIKES HER CHIPS WITH SOME DIP 🤯 pic.twitter.com/Xy0nlyQuix
The team has reason to feel pretty okay based on their two performances (despite being on the wrong end of that Gotham FC thriller). And I know… the center back situation has to be resolved. But Abby Erceg will return and take care of at least half of that problem, and if someone else doesn’t rise to the occasion, expect Paul Riley to go out and sign a new face.
2. Numbers Don’t Lie: East > West… Or is it West > East?
Each division has played 6 games thus far. The East division has scored 19 goals. The West division has scored 8, with 5 coming from Portland. (Then again, you could also say teams in the East have given up 19 goals while the West has only conceded 8.)
On the whole, defenses have looked shakier and less consistent in the East, while the offenses have also looked more potent. The opposite holds true for the West, with defenses highlighting a number of 0-0 draws, as every team (minus Portland) struggles to find the back of the net.
As teams continue to return players from international duty, expect to see some of those problems solve themselves. Additionally, for some sides, this Challenge Cup might be the perfect opportunity to see if any last minute or mid-season signings are needed.
3. Speaking of Numbers…
I don’t want to say I called it (I did), but Orlando got their first win in 609 days! I also lightly suggested that they should put Ali Krieger at CB (which they did), so I’m certainly up on my high horse here.
A giant Ashlyn Harris performance, a controversial no-goal, and a Alex Morgan/Sydney Leroux connection were the difference makers against the Spirit.
We have no words.@Ashlyn_Harris is out of this world.#ORLvWAS | https://t.co/0LtSAUsqkW | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/zu9l9idr5d— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 22, 2021
We have no words.@Ashlyn_Harris is out of this world.#ORLvWAS | https://t.co/0LtSAUsqkW | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/zu9l9idr5d
Winning this early in the season is MASSIVE for Orlando. I’ve played for the Pride, and I know how heavy not winning weighs on each part of the organization. If they go and win their next one and set the tone for the season, they just might be a playoff team.
4. Racing Louisville FC is in for a rude awakening
Louisville got a best case scenario introduction to the league, facing multiple sides missing their international players, whose leaky defensive performances showed they were still getting settled. Heck, from a fan perspective, you really couldn’t have asked for a better entrance than a stoppage time goal!
#NWSLAfterDark STRIKES AGAIN 🤪#LOUvORL | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/8r6Z4V2YaO— National Women's Soccer League (@NWSL) April 11, 2021
#NWSLAfterDark STRIKES AGAIN 🤪#LOUvORL | https://t.co/0LtSAUK1Jw | #CC21 pic.twitter.com/8r6Z4V2YaO
But life for the expansion club is about to get a lot more difficult, starting with their game against North Carolina on Monday. Long term, the foundation looks strong. No. 1 draft Emily Fox has impressed, and they certainly are not a bad team. But Christy Holly needs both more time and more pieces (hello, Gemma Bonner!). And the pace of the regular season will make his job tough.
5. Portland should (and probably will) win the NWSL Championship
No team came in moving the ball better and looking as clean, even without their international players. And then those international players came back, and Lindsey Horan proved she is still an absolute animal on free kicks.
OH MY @LindseyHoran pic.twitter.com/gF4vwUU25A— Just Women’s Sports (@justwsports) April 22, 2021
OH MY @LindseyHoran pic.twitter.com/gF4vwUU25A
The Thorns have turned in consistent and dominant performances in each of their three games. They’ve already clinched the West. We haven’t even reached the regular season, so this feels dramatic to say: but it’s looking like most trophies this year will be theirs to lose.
Disagree? Fight me on Twitter, or hit us up at the JWS handle.