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NWSL Power Rankings: OL Reign, Kansas City Current keep rising

OL Reign’s Bethany Balcer is tied for fifth in the NWSL with five goals this season. (Stephen Brashear/USA TODAY Sports)

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.

12. Racing Louisville FC (2-5-4) —

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.

11. North Carolina Courage (2-5-2) -2

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.

10. Orlando Pride (3-5-3) +1

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.

9. NJ/NY Gotham FC (4-5-0) +1

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.

8. Washington Spirit (1-5-6) —

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.

7. Houston Dash (4-4-3) -2

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.

6. Kansas City Current (4-4-3) +1

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.

5. Angel City FC (5-4-2) +1

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.

4. San Diego Wave FC (6-3-3) -2

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.

3. OL Reign (4-2-5) +1

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.

2. Portland Thorns FC (4-1-6) +1

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.

1. Chicago Red Stars (5-1-5) —

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.

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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