After a couple of quiet weeks of somewhat predictable outcomes in the NWSL, the Orlando Pride shut out the Houston Dash after losing 5-0 their last meeting, while the last-place North Carolina Courage nearly recorded a clean sheet against the No. 2 Chicago Red Stars. No. 1 San Diego Wave FC fell to Angel City, who were a player down when they scored the game-winning goal.
Through it all, just three clubs remain in the same spot from last week’s power rankings. OL Reign have finally moved into the top three, and the Kansas City Current have joined the top half.
Let’s dive in.
Racing Louisville hasn’t won since a 1-0 victory over Gotham FC on May 22, in a streak that’s spanned six games. Meeting Gotham again on Friday, Louisville had a chance to snap their losing streak in a chippy game where they outshot their opponents 24-9. But bad passing out of the back led to Gotham’s winning goal and a 2-1 loss, keeping Louisville firmly in last place in the power rankings.
Nearly three months into the regular season, the Courage still haven’t rediscovered their dominance from the Challenge Cup this past spring. On Sunday, though, they were the closest they’ve been all season. The Red Stars had a hard time keeping up with North Carolina’s quick counterattacks, and the Courage took a 2-0 lead into stoppage time, at which point Chicago scored two last-minute goals to salvage a draw. The Courage need to play with more urgency from start to finish if they want to close out games like Sunday’s and ultimately make a playoff push.
The Pride showed no fear coming into Friday’s match against a team that had defeated them 5-0 in early June. In a hard-fought game against the Dash, the Pride were rewarded with a 1-0 win, their first of the season at home. The goal was the result of a desperate scrum in front of the net, but Orlando deserved it after controlling the game with six shots on goal and an 81 percent passing accuracy.
After three scoreless games, Gotham found the back of the net twice in a 2-1 win over Racing Louisville. The center of the park has been an area of concern for Gotham this season, but the midfielders made the plays needed to set up at least two goals on Friday. Some poor passing accuracy led to 32 clearances throughout the game, however, and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris came up with a couple of big saves to keep Gotham in the game.
Despite losing 1-0 Sunday, the Spirit showed more command against Kansas City than they have in recent games, even with seven players out on international duty with the U.S. women’s national team. That, combined with the fact that no other team deserves to rise into the No. 8 spot, keeps Washington from dropping in this week’s power rankings. The Spirit’s biggest downfall Sunday was that they were unable to get past Current goalkeeper AD Franch. Since their 2-1 win over OL Reign in the regular season opener, Washington hasn’t won in 11 games. A comeback is not out of the question considering the Spirit have six draws and have yet to lose by more than one goal. After outshooting the Current 13-9 and missing a penalty kick in stoppage time, they’ll need to be more precise in front of net to achieve it.
It’s one thing to lose, and it’s another to be outplayed. On Friday, the Dash fell victim to both against the Pride. In last week’s power rankings, we wrote that the Dash appeared to be losing sight of the success they had at the beginning of the season. This week, they failed to prove that wrong. Of their four losses this season, three have come in their most recent four games.
The Current are quietly turning into one of the best stories in the NWSL. With a 1-0 win over the Spirit on Sunday, they extended their unbeaten streak to six games, after going winless in their first five matches of the season. Sunday’s victory brought them level in points with the No. 6 Dash. The Current previously had trouble controlling the play in the attacking third and finishing their chances. Recent acquisition Cece Kizer has made a big difference in that department, especially on Sunday when she subbed on to score the game-winner.
Cash Money Kizer.The Current is flowing. 1-0 lead. Still work to do.#TealRising | #Water💧 pic.twitter.com/DRj54tVZd9— KC Current (@thekccurrent) July 10, 2022
Cash Money Kizer.The Current is flowing. 1-0 lead. Still work to do.#TealRising | #Water💧 pic.twitter.com/DRj54tVZd9
Not only did Angel City beat the No. 1 team in the league on Saturday, but they did it with a player down. Tyler Lussi was issued her second yellow card of the match in the 79th minute. Three minutes later, Claire Emslie scored the game-winning goal. Angel City didn’t play a pretty match, as they struggled to control possession and get shots off on goal, but they found a way to win in the face of adversity, which is an important tool to have in a league as competitive as the NWSL.
The Wave started slowly against Angel City on Saturday. They didn’t pounce on the opportunity of the player advantage, and they made poor defensive mistakes that led to the game-winning goal. San Diego outshot Angel City 19-9 and had the majority of possession, but they couldn’t close out the win nor hold onto a top-two slot in the power rankings. They would be ranked third if not for OL Reign’s rise in the past week.
In a fairly even match with the Portland Thorns, the Reign played with a vengeance. An own goal in the 12th minute could have easily shattered their focus; instead, they immediately pressed for a goal of their own. A minute later, they tied the game 1-1 courtesy of Olivia Athens’ first professional goal. After the Thorns reclaimed the lead in the second half, the Reign responded again with a Bethany Balcer goal in the 81st minute. Their strategic build-ups resulted in four shots on goal, and they held the advantage in duels, winning 44 of them.
In another thrilling Cascadia Rivalry, the Thorns drew with OL Reign 2-2 on Sunday. Of the two sides, the Thorns applied more attacking pressure and logged 56 percent of the possession. The match showcased their roster depth, with six key players gone on international duty, including leading scorer Sophia Smith. Many new players appeared for the Thorns and rose to the occasion under high pressure. Portland heads into the week on a seven-game unbeaten streak and with the best goal differential in the league at 14 — six ahead of the next-best Wave.
Do the Red Stars deserve to be first in the power rankings this week? Maybe not. But do they deserve to move down after making a thrilling comeback over the weekend? In an intense battle against the Courage, the Red Stars weren’t always ready for North Carolina’s quick transition. With 55 percent of the possession, 79 percent passing accuracy and seven shots on goal, Chicago eventually had a breakthrough in stoppage time, scoring two goals to save a point. If anything, this team showed it won’t go down without a fight.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.