For the first time since the NWSL regular season began on April 29, we are back with our Just Women’s Sports power rankings.
The first two weeks of the season have been chaotic, and that’s exactly what these rankings reflect. Wonky scheduling has left some teams playing one game while others play three in one week, contributing to tired legs and unexpected results. The expansion clubs’ stadiums have been electric, refereeing has come under fire, and the underdogs are so eager to prove doubters wrong that they’re beating some of the best teams from the Challenge Cup.
Taking into consideration both the Challenge Cup playoffs and regular-season performances, here are the first power rankings of the NWSL season.
From the Challenge Cup semifinals to the bottom of the regular-season standings, the Kansas City Current have had a rough couple of weeks with two losses and no goals scored. In their most recent game against the Dash, they managed to keep 60 percent possession and outshoot Houston 15-9 despite losing 2-0. This team has ample potential, but they’ll have to start finishing their chances to live up to it.
Finding some rhythm with players in new positions, the Pride claimed their first victory of the year against Angel City on Sunday. Megan Montefusco played in the six and Carrie Lawrence shifted to center back, helping hold down a backline that head coach Amanda Cromwell raved about. Their first regular season game produced a very different outcome, with Orlando falling to Gotham FC despite finishing with 50.5 percent of the possession and a 15-7 shots advantage.
Going from a 3-0 win over the Pride to a 4-0 loss to San Diego Wave FC is quite the swing for a team that is full of veteran experience. The midfield has been shaky lately, but head coach Scott Parkinson said after the Wave match that its’ the defense and attack that need work. Gotham, first in the league in assists and second in goals, will be put to the test against the Courage on Saturday.
The Dash had some unexpected adjustments to make after head coach James Clarkson was suspended ahead of the regular season based on initial findings in a joint investigation by the NWSL and NWSL Players’ Association. After a 1-0 loss to San Diego to open their season, the Dash struggled to maintain possession in their second match against the Kansas City Current. In the end, they added more numbers in the midfield and built enough momentum to come away with a 2-0 shutout.
The 2022 expansion club had an electrifying start to its regular season, defeating the eventual Challenge Cup champion Courage 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd at Banc of California Stadium. In quite a turn of events, Angel City lost to Orlando, the bottom team in the Challenge Cup standings, in their second regular season match. The club boasts individual talent across its lineup with players like Jun Endo, Jasmyne Spencer and Christen Press, but they need more time to build chemistry and dominate consistently in this league.
Playing just one regular-season match so far due to Challenge Cup scheduling, the Red Stars earned three points at home against Racing Louisville FC. Despite the 2-1 result, the club struggled to respond to Racing’s high pressure and stay in control of the game. The Red Stars were without some key players, including Challenge Cup leading scorer Mallory Pugh and forward Yuki Nagasato, who was ruled out with an illness just before the match.
Results aside, Racing Louisville FC has not had a bad start to the season. They dominated Chicago with 61 percent of the possession and a 14-8 shots advantage in what turned out to be a 2-1 loss, and then they earned a point in a 2-2 draw with Challenge Cup No. 1 seed OL Reign. They’ve succeeded so far at applying pressure and forcing giveaways. Against Chicago, they broke two league records with 47 total crosses and 43 crosses from open play. Alyssa Naeher and Phallon Tullis Joyce are two of the best goalkeepers in the league, but that will only get them so far if they don’t improve their finishing in front of net.
The Reign have taken the hit for a lot of the problems that have plagued the NWSL lately, from poor scheduling to questionable calls. They then had overcome physical fatigue to play three games in one week while other teams, like Portland and Chicago, had just one. They came close to a win in the Challenge Cup semifinals, but lost after two rounds of penalty kicks and Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury’s heroics. The Reign still have plenty of time to recover and play like the team that earned the top seed out of the Challenge Cup group stage.
The Spirit’s 20-game unbeaten streak came to an end Saturday in the Challenge Cup championship game. An emotional 90 minutes of physical play and multiple injuries, the match was not necessarily an accurate representation of what the Spirit are capable of. On any other day, Washington’s creativity on the attack can be lethal, such as in their two wins over OL Reign ahead of the final. When midfielder Ashley Sanchez has the ball, good things usually happen, but it took them a while to find that rhythm on Saturday.
Art from all angles 🎨@kerolinnicolii | #CourageUnitesUs pic.twitter.com/SpfC7DfRNP— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) May 8, 2022
Art from all angles 🎨@kerolinnicolii | #CourageUnitesUs pic.twitter.com/SpfC7DfRNP
After an unexpected 2-1 loss to Angel City in their regular season opener, the Courage outlasted the defending NWSL champions in the Challenge Cup final. The attacking duo of Kerolin and Debinha showed why they will give other teams nightmares this season. New to the NWSL, Kerolin has mastered the art of setting up goals and drawing penalty kicks in the box. Days after Kerolin was named Challenge Cup Finals MVP, Debinha earned tournament MVP honors. The veteran leadership of players like Abby Erceg, Meredith Speck and Merritt Mathias has helped establish a winning standard in North Carolina.
It might seem unfair that the Thorns are in second after playing only one match since April 30, but a 3-0 shutout over the Current, the Challenge Cup semifinalists, shot them up the power rankings. The Thorns dominated in the match, outshooting Kansas City 19-5 and setting a league record for the most shots in the first half of a regular season match (10). They reached that mark even without star forward Sophia Smith on the field until the second half.
The 2022 expansion team is wasting no time in living up to the NWSL’s #CueTheChaos slogan. The Wave have gone from the second-most losses in the Challenge Cup to the most wins so far in the regular season. Outside of the improvements they need to make in the midfield, they’re getting used to each other’s strengths quickly and showing why they could be serious contenders this year. This week, they dominated preseason favorite Gotham FC as Alex Morgan became just the third player in league history to score four goals in one game.
Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.