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NWSL Power Rankings: Courage are contenders — are they the favorites?

Joe Robbins/ISI Photos/Getty Images

We closed out last week with what felt like some season-defining wins and losses in the NWSL. Houston took down the league leaders, while Gotham got a statement 3-0 win on the road in Tacoma. Upstart Louisville, meanwhile, got their own 3-0 win and dominated a struggling Chicago side. 

Now comes the tough part. With the Olympics around the corner and the NWSL not taking a break, many of the league’s top teams will have to find a way to survive without their best players

Heading into what could be the most chaotic part of the season, here’s how I see the league today:

10. Kansas City — 

It looked like KC was about to get their first win of the season against the Spirit. It didn’t happen. Ashley Sanchez tied the game in the 72’, and then Trinity Rodman delivered the stoppage-time clincher. This Kansas City team is in a bad place, but I think their first win is coming sooner than later.

9. Chicago Red Stars — 

Needless to say, a 3-0 loss to Louisville FC is not how Chicago wanted to end their week. For a team stacked with USWNT talent, especially at the back, these results are reason enough to sound the alarm in Chicago. I’m interested to see how this team fares without their stars come the Olympics. It may be a much-needed reset for the group.

8. OL Reign (-2)

Oof. That 3-0 loss to Gotham WAS NOT IT. I want to give the Reign the benefit of the doubt and say that their new signings need some time to acclimate, but they’re going to want to accelerate that timeline. Yes it’s early, but the gap between the top group and the bottom is slowly starting to widen.

7. Racing Louisville — 

It’s hard not to root for this team! Ebony Salmon is the real deal, and her style of play fits perfectly with this league. The way she teams up with Yuki and Savannah McCaskill… *chef’s kiss.*

6. Houston Dash (+2)

A 2-1 win over the league leaders was exactly what the Dash needed to right the ship on what has been a rocky start to the year. I think we can all agree that the Maria Sanchez loan was far too short, but nonetheless, it paid off and give Houston the edge in the #SpaceRace.

5. Gotham FC — 

The top 5 of this list are near impossible to rank, and it was made that much harder after Gotham stormed into Tacoma and executed counter attacks that will give the Reign backline nightmares. I know I have them listed as fifth currently, but I’m calling it now: Gotham FC will make the playoffs this season.

4. Portland Thorns (-2)

After their loss to the Courage, the Thorns now have 3 losses in 7 games. They look dominant in their wins but haven’t been able to find any kind of momentum in their three losses. At their best, they’re unstoppable. But that “best” isn’t quite consistent enough yet, especially on the road.

3. Washington Spirit — 

The Spirit keep grinding out late wins and draws. A Trinity Rodman stoppage time masterpiece keeps them near the top of the table. You simply can’t doubt a team that finds ways to win, even when the games on the whole aren’t the prettiest.

2. NC Courage (+2)

The Courage continue to climb behind a three-win week that saw Lynn Williams go on an absolute tear, scoring four goals in the latter two games. Since her reunion with Sam Mewis, the Courage have once again looked like championship contenders if not the favorites. 

1. Orlando Pride — 

The Pride keep the top spot despite closing out a three-game week with a loss. They went on the road to Houston (who hadn’t played a midweek game) and still made it close. There was some general sloppiness on the goals conceded, but we will give the Pride a pass with the week they had. All eyes will be on their Sunday matchup with the NC Courage to see how they rebound.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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