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NWSL power rankings: Portland Thorns take first

Portland Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn scores Portland’s second goal during an NWSL match between the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns on Sunday, June 19, 2022, at Providence Park in Portland, OR. (Photo by Diego Diaz/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Two months down, five to go.

The NWSL just wrapped up Week 8, its last weekend of games before the two-week international break at the end of June. While players on international duty continue into other tournaments throughout July, including Euros and Concacaf, the NWSL will return to play on July 1. Teams have been starting to solidify their places in the standings, but the coming month might shake things up as key players remain absent from their clubs while on international duty.

For now, here are the final power rankings before June’s two-week international break begins. (Click here for the last edition of the power rankings.)

12. Orlando Pride (2-5-2) —

Frankly, the Pride are not having a good time. They’ve conceded 24 goals in nine games played, most recently suffering a 6-0 loss to the Thorns. Though acting head coach Seb Hines says they need to go over fundamentals at practice, like tackles and runs, it’s hard to believe the effort from the players is the problem, especially when they had a reasonably strong start to the season. They’ve been dealing with behind-the-scenes situations like the suspension of head coach Amanda Cromwell and assistant coach Sam Greene, and many NWSL players recently took to Twitter to express their feelings about the Pride buying out the contract of Amy Turner. The Orlando players’ on-field energy is on the decline, and they could probably benefit from some time to recharge.

11. Racing Louisville FC (2-4-3) —

No. 11 is a tough spot because no team in this league truly deserves it. But with a “meh” performance from Louisville on Friday, they don’t have any reason to be ranked higher or lower from where they were last week. One of the key takeaways coming out of this week for Racing is that Jess McDonald and Nadia Nadim have an undeniable connection. Nadim subbed into the game against Washington in the second half to score a brace and help Louisville come back from a 2-0 deficit, both her goals assisted by McDonald. The duo should give the team confidence that their attack is going to be okay after trading star forward Cece Kizer to Kansas City so she could play in her hometown.

10. NJ/NY Gotham FC (3-4-0) -2

Sunday saw the second loss in a row for Gotham FC, and the second straight loss to the Wave in which NJ/NY conceded three or more goals. They put up a reasonable fight and forced a lot of turnovers, but they still need to address the problem they’ve been having in the midfield when it comes to creating chances for the forwards, and, in general, getting shots on goal, an area in which they’re last in the league. Though Gotham outshot the Wave 13-12 and held over 55 percent of the possession, San Diego more than doubled their shots on goal, 7-3.

9. North Carolina Courage (2-4-1) -2

With just seven games played, the Courage are not yet proving themselves to be a playoff team. They can score goals, but defensively they’ve recorded just one shutout and 12 goals against. There is, however, a lot to be said about their mental strength with how they were able to come back from a 4-1 deficit to lose only 4-3 against the Dash, especially after three of Houston’s goals were scored in a 10-minute span. While they shouldn’t have let those four goals happen in the first place, it was more about what the Dash did than what the Courage didn’t. North Carolina had a bit of a slump at the beginning of the second half, like teams sometimes do, and Houston pounced on that, which most clubs aren’t often able to execute to the extent in which they did.

8. Washington Spirit (1-3-6) +2

The Spirit had the obviously stronger performance over Racing Louisville in a 2-2 draw on Friday. Washington held strong possession and made good service to their high numbers in the box before letting Racing gain more control in the second half. After two months in which the Spirit played a condensed schedule that included more games than every team, Washington finally — FINALLY — can catch a breather. Well, some of them, at least. Seven are on international duty.

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

The Current had to battle hard to come out with a 2-2 draw against the dominant Chicago Red Stars. Giving up a lead and a penalty kick six minutes later, new addition Cece Kizer, from a trade with Racing Louisville, was the energy Kansas City needed when she took on a player down the flank and finished the game-tying goal to help extend the Current’s unbeaten streak to four games. According to head coach Matt Potter, the team did everything that was asked of them — a small but important step as they continue to find their stride this season. In two games with the club, Kizer is already making a noticeable impact, and the Current will likely only get stronger as they adjust to her presence.

6. Angel City FC (4-4-1) —

With an even split of four wins and four losses, Angel City is walking a fine line with their higher position in the power rankings. What’s good is they can keep up with the league’s top teams, like they did in the second half of a 1-0 loss to the OL Reign on Saturday. What’s not good is their inconsistent results have made it difficult to be confident they can hold a spot in the top half of the standings. They’ve only scored three goals in the last month, and their overall goal differential of minus-2 doesn’t help their case.

5. OL Reign (4-2-3) —

Will the OL Reign have a breakthrough? That remains the big question for the quality team that has been fairly quiet through the first part of the season. They’ve had just four goals in seven games and have never scored more than once in a game during that span. But at least scoring is their only problem. They dominated the first half of their 1-0 win over Angel City after putting on lots of high pressure. Star goalscorer Kim Little and Tobin Heath have yet to officially join the squad, but when they do, it’s safe to expect the Reign to only get stronger. And, announced this week is newly-signed Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Huitema also stepping into the forward line. 

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4. Houston Dash (4-2-3) —

The Dash like to keep their fans guessing with drastically different score lines every game. This past week was no different when they overtook the North Carolina Courage in a thrilling 4-3 victory, redeeming themselves from a 4-0 loss to the Thorns on June 12. Other than that recent loss to Portland, the Dash have proven a strong ability this season to quickly adjust to the way their opponents are playing and are particularly dangerous on the counterattack. When they have momentum they’ll go wild and score three goals in a 10-minute span, like they did against the Courage on Sunday. As mentioned, no one knows what their next move is, and that’s what makes them one of the most dangerous teams in the league right now.

3. Chicago Red Stars (4-1-4) -2

Chicago’s drop in the power rankings has nothing to do with their performance on the weekend and everything to do with the Thorns and Wave simply getting better results. Mal Pugh is, yet again, a force. She notched a goal and an assist on the weekend, bringing her goal count to six and giving the Red Stars more reason to worry about how they’ll match their current dominance without their star forward during the international break. The team hasn’t lost a match with Pugh on the field. But the success they found in Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Kansas City Current was largely thanks to defense. Even with steady defense alone, they should make it through the international break without throwing away how far they’ve come as a team since the Challenge Cup. A lot of credit for their progress goes to the young players, who get better with every game and could step up big when needed.

2. San Diego Wave FC (5-2-3) +1

It’s a good thing the Wave excel at capitalizing on their chances. Their possession against Gotham FC on Sunday wasn’t the tidiest, yet they still managed a 3-0 win. Two of those goals came from Alex Morgan. She now has 11 of the team’s season total of 16. Similar to the problem the Red Stars will have with the absence of Pugh, it remains unclear who will be able to step up big when Morgan’s at the Concacaf championships for two weeks in July. But there is certainly a lot to look forward to in giving players like Amirah Ali more time on the field to show the league what they can do.

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

It’s simple: After a 6-0 win against the Orlando Pride, there’s no reason to keep the Thorns from moving into first this week. They’re on a five-game unbeaten streak, with multiple goals in each of those matches, suggesting they’ve solved their problem with finishing that they had earlier in the season. They lead the league in goals with 21 and have the best goal differential at 14. Dominance.

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

‘UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class Tennis’ Debuts on Prime 

Still from tennis docuseries UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis
'UNINTERRUPTED'S Top Class Tennis' follows four junior players as they prep for the Orange Bowl. (Amazon MGM Studios)

Prime Video is hitting the tennis court with Thursday's streaming premiere of UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis.

After four seasons of the men's high school basketball-focused Top Class: The Life and Times of The Sierra Canyon Trailblazers, athlete empowerment brand UNINTERRUPTED is expanding its purview to tennis with a new four-episode mixed-gender docuseries.

Junior tennis stars take centerstage

Behind the concept is 2017 US Open champion and world No. 45 pro Sloane Stephens, who co-executive produced the series alongside LeBron James and Maverick Carter, co-founders of UNINTERRUPTED and its production and entertainment development arm, The SpringHill Company.

Top Class Tennis follows four players on their journeys to the Orange Bowl, arguably the junior circuit’s Grand Slam equivalent. The Florida-based international tournament was established in 1947 and has crowned a long list of future pros as champions, from retired great Steffi Graf to current star Coco Gauff.

Stealing the spotlight this season is rising Harvard sophomore and 2022-23 USA Today Girls Tennis Player of the Year Stephanie Yakoff, as well as five-time junior title winner and incoming Texas freshman Ariana Anazagasty-Pursoo. Both already have WTA creds, with Yakoff featuring at the 2023 BNP Paribas Open while Anazagasty-Pursoo competed on three Grand Slam courts.

Kamilla Cardoso, Kiki Rice, Caitlin Clark, Holly Rowe and Kristen Lappas at the ESPN+ 'Full Court Press' premiere
ESPN+'s Full Court Press is one of several women's sports docs hitting the screen this year. (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Women's sports storms the big screen

Top Class Tennis is just the latest in what's shaping up to be a women’s sports documentary boom.

From Max's LFG about the USWNT's fight for equal pay and Netflix's Under Pressure chronicling the 2023 World Cup to ESPN+’s 2023-24 NCAA basketball series Full Court Press, athletes in women’s sports have taken streamers by storm.

UNINTERRUPTED's Top Class Tennis is available for streaming now on Prime Video

JWS Launches ‘The Gold Standard’ Hosted by Olympians Kelley O’Hara & Lisa Leslie

the gold standard logo
'The Gold Standard' is just one of three new JWS shows tackling the Summer Olympics.

Just Women's Sports announced three new digital series on Thursday, headlined by The Gold Standard, a new studio show hosted by Olympic gold medalists and women's sports icons Kelley O'Hara and Lisa Leslie.

USWNT and NWSL great O'Hara, a two-time World Cup winner and Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is teaming up with three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, herself a four-time Olympic gold medalist with Team USA, to bring viewers inside the world of Olympic women's sports. The pair will record each episode in-studio, with a series of special guests joining them throughout the show's run.

An insider's view of the Summer Games

The Gold Standard will debut on July 27th and cover the biggest women's sports stories from the Paris Olympics, giving fans a unique perspective by tapping into the insights and opinions of two legendary Olympians. 

"I know first-hand just how exciting and intense the Olympic Games can be," Leslie told JWS. "This show gives us a chance as athletes to bring fans closer to the experience, by sharing our unique insights into the Games. And with all the momentum we're seeing in women's sports, now is the perfect time to have a show dedicated to the biggest women's sports moments at the Olympic Games." 

"I can still remember watching the '96 Olympics and knowing that I wanted to be on that stage one day," says O'Hara. "Having the chance to compete in the Olympics and win gold was one of the highlights of my career. I'm looking forward to being a fan this time around and getting the chance to share my own perspective on the Games' biggest stories. Having teamed with Just Women's Sports before, I know this will be content that resonates with fans." 

The Gold Standard will live on Just Women's Sports' YouTube page, with select social cuts distributed across JWS digital platforms. The six-episode show will run through August 13th.

uswnt stars kelley o'hara and jaedyn shaw on jws digital series 1v1
1v1 with Kelley O'Hara will focus on USWNT players as they prep for the 2024 Olympics. (Just Women's Sports)

Additional series focus on USWNT's Olympic run

The Gold Standard is just one of three upcoming JWS series designed to invite fans to experience the Summer Games from an Olympian's point of view, with additional series zeroing in on the USWNT's 2024 Olympic run.

Ahead of the opening ceremony, JWS will launch the latest edition of 1v1, with host Kelley O'Hara interviewing three of her USWNT teammates: Emily Sonnett, Jaedyn Shaw, and Rose Lavelle. These peer-to-peer interviews provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the USWNT's preparation for their first major tournament under new manager Emma Hayes.

To round things out, JWS is also bringing back its award-winning series, The 91st. This tournament's edition will be hosted by retired USWNT star and World Cup champion Jessica McDonald alongside noted soccer personalities Jordan Angeli and Duda Pavão. The 91st will follow the USWNT as it looks to go for gold against a stacked international field at the Paris Olympics — including reigning World Cup winners Spain.

Each new digital series leans on the expertise of its accomplished hosts and special guest stars, providing fans with candid, personality-driven commentary surrounding this summer's biggest event.

Costa Rica Holds USWNT to 0-0 Draw in Frustrating Olympic Send-Off

USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan dribbles the ball by Costa Rica forward Melissa Herrera and midfielder Gloriana Villalobos
The USWNT had 12 shots on goal on Tuesday despite failing to find the back of the net. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

The USWNT didn't quite get the going away party they were hoping for, settling for a 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday in their final tune-up match before the 2024 Olympics kick off next week.

The US produced 26 shots — 12 on target — alongside 67 touches in the box, the most in any match where they failed to convert a single goal since at least 2015, per Opta. Yet they also faced a heroic performance from Costa Rica goalkeeper Noelia Bermúdez, who tallied 12 saves on the night.

USWNT starters remained mostly intact

After Saturday's win over Mexico, USWNT manager Emma Hayes opted for a very similar starting XI, only swapping Crystal Dunn in for Jenna Nighswonger due to load management.

Named starter Rose Lavelle was a late scratch from the lineup after team warmups, with US Soccer attributing her last-minute absence to "leg tightness." Lavelle was replaced by midfielder Korbin Albert, giving the US a slightly less aggressive attacking edge throughout the match.

Casey Krueger, Lynn Williams, Jaedyn Shaw, Emily Sonnett, and rookie Croix Bethune all got minutes in the second half, coming off the bench to contend with Washington, DC's brutally hot conditions.

USWNT forward Sophia Smith and Costa Rica midfielder Gloriana Villalobos battle for the ball
Costa Rica managed to fend off the USWNT with a strong defensive low-block. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY)

Costa Rica's low-block spelled trouble

"Listen, if you play a game of percentages or law of averages, we're creating more and more high-quality chances, and we're getting numbers into key areas — we're getting touches in the key areas," Hayes told reporters after the match, calling attention to Costa Rica's strong defensive low-block.

"The last part's the hardest part. And I'm really patient, because I've coached teams that have to break blocks down, and it's the hardest thing to do in coaching," she continued.

Hayes also noted the team's lack of training time under her management: The decorated coach officially joined the US in early June after finishing the WSL season with her previous club, league champs Chelsea FC.

USWNT pose for a picture after their send-off friendly against costa rica at Audi Field
The USWNT's Olympic group stage run kicks off on July 25th. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Where to watch the USWNT's Olympic games

Tuesday's draw is just the second time the USWNT has entered a major tournament off a non-win. Back in 2015, the US embarked on their legendary World Cup campaign after a 0-0 send-off draw with South Korea.

The next time the USWNT takes the pitch will be at the Paris Olympics, where they'll play Zambia on Thursday, July 25th at 3 PM ET. The match will be broadcast live on USA, with streaming options available on Peacock.

The Late Sub Podcast: This Is Sophia Smith’s USWNT Attack Now

Sophia Smith dribbles during the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico on Saturday.
Sophia Smith scored the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over Mexico last Saturday. (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

This week, JWS podcast host Claire Watkins breaks down the days leading up to the first USWNT Olympic send-off friendly, discussing player performances, things that worked well on the pitch, and what still needs developing as coach Emma Hayes's team moves towards a crucial Olympic competition set to will dictate the future of the team.

She then sets her sights on the WNBA, previewing WNBA All-Star Weekend and chatting with Gatorade Women’s Basketball Player of the Year Joyce Edwards alongside Dallas Wings forward Satou Sabally.

Subscribe to The Late Sub to never miss an episode.

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