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NWSL Power Rankings: Angel City soars, North Carolina Courage fall

Christen Press has energized Angel City FC’s attack through the first four games. (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images for Angel City FC)

The NWSL landscape hasn’t gotten any clearer a month into the regular season. The two expansion teams are at the top of the standings, the 2022 Challenge Cup champions are at the bottom, and it’s a free-for-all everywhere in between.

Much has been made about the league’s unpredictable scheduling and refereeing, as many teams are finally starting to settle in after a busy Challenge Cup season.

To add to the chaos of it all, here are this week’s NWSL power rankings:

12. Kansas City Current (0-3-1) —

No one really deserved the last-place spot this week, but since the Current didn’t make a strong case to move up in the power rankings, they remain at the bottom. Considering head coach Matt Potter and four players were absent due to COVID-19 protocols, a 1-0 loss to Angel City FC off an own goal isn’t something to get caught up on. Their 2-2 draw with the Pride could have been a 2-1 win if not for Orlando’s penalty shot in the sixth minute of stoppage time. So, luck hasn’t been entirely on their side, but they’ll still need to show more urgency right from the kickoff to move up the rankings.

11. NJ/NY Gotham FC (1-2-0) -1

Gotham can blame the crossbar for being ranked 11th. They hit the woodwork five times in their only game in the last two weeks, a 1-0 loss to Racing Louisville on Sunday. Having struggled to break down Louisville’s transition game until the second half, Gotham could have easily come out of the contest with a point. And it would have been welcome for the embattled club, still looking for answers after acquiring several high-profile players in the offseason.

10. Orlando Pride (2-2-1) +1

Playing three games in eight days was not ideal, and yet the Pride came out of it with four points to move into fifth place in the NWSL standings. To stay there, they’ll need to be more consistent than in their 4-2 loss to the Red Stars four days after a lucky 2-1 win over the Challenge Cup champion North Carolina Courage. The Pride scored early in each of their wins, and they’ll find even more success if they can muster momentum in the games where they don’t manage those early leads.

9. Houston Dash (2-1-1) —

Houston went into a grueling stretch of three consecutive games on the road and attacked it head on, coming away with two wins and a tie. So far this season, the Dash have shown they can adapt to their opponents with formation and strategy adjustments. The Thorns, for example, often look to take early leads. In their matchup last Saturday, Houston went up 2-0 before the half and Portland looked lost. The Dash still have a lot of room to grow this season, but some of the foundational elements are there.

8. Chicago Red Stars (2-1-0) -1

One of just three teams that’s played only three matches so far, the Red Stars are already at six points and halfway up the standings — and that’s with eight players still ruled out on the availability report. Mallory Pugh returned from a concussion on Sunday and contributed two goals and an assist in Chicago’s 4-2 win over Orlando. A team’s potential shouldn’t be based off of one player, but Pugh’s energy on the dribble is a much-needed weapon for the Red Stars’ attack.

7. Racing Louisville FC (2-1-2) -1

For the first time in club history, Racing Louisville is on a winning streak. The 2021 expansion team followed up two draws with a mid-week shutout of San Diego Wave FC and a 1-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham FC for a four-game unbeaten streak. After adding a number of new players to the 2022 roster, Louisville should only get stronger when Dr. Nadia Nadim rejoins the team following her recovery from a torn ACL.

6. North Carolina Courage (0-3-0) -3

The reigning Challenge Cup champions are walking a very fine line in their early contention for a playoff spot. Debinha was the only player with any strong chances in North Carolina’s loss to San Diego on Sunday, striking twice from distance. The Courage struggled with their defensive transition and swinging the play. Against Orlando last Wednesday, they took control in the final 20 minutes, cutting the Pride’s lead in half and finding the back of the net twice in stoppage time, but both goals were called offside. The Courage might consider inserting Brianna Pinto into the starting lineup and infusing their attack with energy from the opening whistle.

5. Angel City FC (3-1-0) +3

One spot behind San Diego in the standings is fellow 2022 expansion club Angel City, which has played one fewer match. With three wins and a loss, the Los Angeles-based club continues to exceed expectations, most recently recording 1-0 shutouts of the Kansas City Current and 2021 NWSL champion Washington Spirit. Head coach Freya Coombe has been looking for consistency from her team, and they’ve showed in the past two weeks that they have it. The next step for Angel City is to find momentum and take control of games in the first half.

4. Washington Spirit (1-1-2) —

Playing three games in one week, the Spirit recorded two draws and a loss to Angel City FC, which could have easily been a tie if the referee hadn’t called back Emily Sonnett’s goal due to a questionable offside. Considering the competitiveness of their games so far this season, the Spirit have plenty of talent to build upon and plenty of time to rebound.

3. OL Reign (0-1-3) +2

Three seems to be the magic number the Reign: three points, three goals, three draws and one of three teams with no wins. The results don’t reflect the team’s dangerous attack and possession abilities. In the past two weeks, they’ve battled the Thorns and Spirit in back-to-back draws. Their consistency will be tested in the next couple of weeks against the Current and the league-leading Wave.

2. Portland Thorns FC (1-1-2) —

Since the last edition of our power rankings, the Thorns have had two draws and a loss, snapping their seven-game regular season unbeaten streak, which dates back to 2021. They might be looking back on this stretch later in the season wishing they had taken better advantage of four straight games at home. Portland’s main issue has been finishing, but it should only be a matter of time before the forwards start gelling and connecting on Janine Beckie’s countless crosses.

1. San Diego Wave FC (4-1-0) —

The 2022 expansion club sits atop the standings for the fourth straight week. The Wave also lead the league in goals behind Alex Morgan’s six. The Wave uncharacteristically weren’t able to set up any dangerous attacks against Racing Louisville, who handed the club their first loss of the season off of a free kick. Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan and the Wave’s backline have made big strides since the Challenge Cup and are making a case as one of the best defensive units in the league, conceding just two goals and recording three shutouts already this season.

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

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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