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NWSL Power Rankings: Chicago Red Stars surge into first

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Red Stars leading scorer Mallory Pugh brings the ball upfield against OL Reign. (Melissa Tamez/Getty Images)

The NWSL is heading into its final week of action before an international break during the last week of June.

In Week 8, some teams are beginning to find a rhythm and others are still figuring things out. While top playoff contenders are in the early stages of making their case, match results remain unpredictable and, as always in the NWSL, anything can happen.

Below are this week’s power rankings, determined by teams’ recent performances and their cumulative results so far this season. (Click here for the last edition of the power rankings.)

12. Orlando Pride (2-4-2) -2

The Pride score a lot of goals (nine). They also allow a lot of goals (18). Orlando has work to do in shutting down dangerous attackers and coming into the first half of games with higher energy. Too often the Pride are playing catch-up, and in a league as competitive as the NWSL, that’s not a good habit to get into.

11. Racing Louisville FC (2-4-2) -4

For some time, it looked like Racing Louisville might be able to work their way up the standings throughout the season. They’ll still have that chance considering that a lot of the goals they’ve given up recently were the result of small mistakes in the box. After losses to the Kansas City Current and North Carolina Courage, Louisville has fallen and joined the Pride, Current and Spirit with eight points this season. Head coach Kim Björkegren will be tasked with implementing a better strategy when the team’s high press isn’t working. Playing forward Ebony Salmon more often could help.

10. Washington Spirit (1-3-5) -6

Sitting quietly in eighth place with eight points, the Spirit are coming off two losses and three draws in recent weeks. They haven’t won since their regular season opener. At least, most of their results since then have been draws and not losses, as the Spirit have logged the most ties (five) of any team in the league. They’ve dealt with injuries and the most compact schedule, having played five games in the span of two and a half weeks. Once they get healthier and back on a more normal schedule, Washington has the tools to rebound. One sign pointing in that direction is that the Spirit have registered the most shots in the NWSL this season at 96.

9. Kansas City Current (2-4-2) +3

A heavily talented squad featuring Elyse Bennett, Kristen Hamilton and Desiree Scott, the Current have a lot of potential and have been proving it recently, holding first-place San Diego to a 2-2 draw and defeating Racing Louisville 1-0. Forward Cece Kizer, acquired in a trade with Racing Louisville, might be just the game-changer Kansas City needs in close matches. She made an immediate difference in the team’s 1-0 win over Gotham on Saturday.

8. NJ/NY Gotham FC (3-3-0) +3

Two wins and two goals in these last three weeks give Gotham a little bit of hope, especially since their 1-0 loss to the Current could have easily been a tie as they registered four dangerous shots on goal. To turn their better play into wins, the midfielders and forwards will have to level up. Currently, Gotham is one of the worst teams in the league at creating scoring chances.

7. North Carolina Courage (2-3-1) -1

The Courage’s No. 7 ranking might be the most controversial part of this list. While they’re at the bottom of the NWSL standings, they’ve played only six games. Catching up in points won’t be a problem if they keep up their current pace, notching two wins and a draw during the most recent stretch. Since starting the season with three losses, North Carolina has rebounded from its mid-May COVID-19 issues and star forward Kerolin has returned for the first time since the season opener. And when Kerolin is on the field and the Courage’s foot is on the gas, the 2022 Challenge Cup champions are as dangerous as any team in the league.

6. Angel City FC (4-3-1) -1

Angel City has fallen into a bit of a rough patch, recording two losses, a draw and a win in the past three weeks. They’ve now lost Christen Press, who’s been a force in creating chances, for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. It’s up to other stars like Jun Endo, Simone Charley and Savannah McCaskill to lead the team’s attack. Angel City is more than capable of meeting the challenge, but the remaining players will have to double their shots on goal to get anywhere close to Press’ 10 this season.

5. OL Reign (2-2-4) -2

The Reign just can’t seem to score. They have some of the league’s best creative playmakers in the attacking third, and although they’re second in the league with 93 shots and 42 shots on goal, they have only six goals to show for it — the second-worst mark in the NWSL. Otherwise, the squad has weapons up and down the park and will be even more dangerous when recent signings — USWNT star Tobin Heath and Kim Little, once the league’s leading goal scorer — join them on the pitch.

4. Houston Dash (3-2-3) +5

With a draw, a 5-0 win, another draw and a 4-0 loss, the Dash have been to the highest of highs, the lowest of lows and everywhere in between in the last couple of weeks. They’ve gotten the job done so far by capitalizing on the counterattack. In the 4-0 loss to the Thorns, an early own goal quickly derailed their game plan. More than half their goals conceded across eight matches came in that game, a performance that was out of character and shouldn’t define their otherwise dominant season so far.

3. San Diego Wave FC (4-2-3) -2

Dominant at the beginning of the season, the Wave now haven’t won a game since May 22. Their 2-2 draw with the Portland Thorns last Wednesday was nearly a 3-2 victory, but a ball that appeared to cross Portland’s goal line on the broadcast was not seen by the referees. Regardless, the Wave’s loss to the Reign and draw with the 10th-place Current have them ranked lower than the Thorns in these power rankings.

2. Portland Thorns (3-1-4) —

Following a 2-0 loss to the Houston Dash, the Thorns woke up to record two draws and two (very dominant) shutout wins, most recently getting vengeance on the Dash with a 4-0 victory. Portland would seem to create more chances by getting numbers get up the field to support an often isolated Sophia Smith, but there’s also an advantage in having an attacker so fast that no one can catch them. Even scarier for their opponents, the Thorns are still in the process of realizing their full potential.

1. Chicago Red Stars (4-1-3) +7

Making the biggest jump in these power rankings, the Red Stars are starting to look like they could be finals contenders. Having lost just once to the first-place Wave, the club appears to be getting stronger every week. After notching their first shutout of the season in a 1-0 win over OL Reign on June 4, the Red Stars proceeded to go on a three-game shutout streak. They are one of the best teams at creating dangerous chances, and they are able to capitalize on them with the highest shot conversion rate in the league at 11.3 percent.

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.