All Scores

NWSL power rankings: Reign, Courage lead the way into regular season

OL Reign Sofia Huerta fends off San Diego’s Tayler Hansen during the Challenge Cup group stage. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup group stage concluded on Sunday, sending four teams to the semifinals next Wednesday. Now that each team has played six matches, it’s time to look at where teams stand as the regular season kicks off with a matchup between Angel City FC and the North Carolina Courage on Friday night.

While the Challenge Cup was an opportunity for early evaluation, teams’ performances don’t necessarily reflect the full picture. Some coaches used the preseason tournament to experiment with different formations and attacking styles. Others focused on helping rookies adjust to the speed of the professional environment. The teams that turned over much of their roster in the offseason need time to build chemistry. During the regular season, however, the only motive is to win.

After the chaos of the Challenge Cup, here is where every team stands in the Just Women’s Sports NWSL preseason power rankings.

1. OL Reign

They’re good on paper, and they’re even better on the pitch. With the most wins of any team in the tournament, the second-most goals and the fewest goals conceded, the Reign are roaring. They’re one of a few teams with no weak link in their lineup, boasting strong depth along their backline and a Bethany Balcer-led attack that’s thriving even without 10-year veteran Megan Rapinoe and Tziarra King. Adding to the dominance are three of the best center midfielders in the world — Jess Fishlock, Quinn and Rose Lavelle — who are responsible for the Reign’s creative combination plays into the attacking third.

Playing in the West Division, the Reign have arguably had an easier run to the Challenge Cup semifinal because of the 2022 expansion teams, but beating longtime NWSL conqueror Portland in their second meeting says a lot about this team’s standing.

2. North Carolina Courage

The Courage going undefeated in the group stage of the Challenge Cup was perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament. Finishing in sixth place last season before losing a herd of stars (including Lynn Williams, Sam Mewis and Amy Rodriguez) and signing six rookies from December’s draft, North Carolina appeared to be heading for a slight rebuild. They shut that theory down pretty quickly, racking up three wins and three ties in the tournament.

While Abby Erceg continues to be one of the strongest defenders in the NWSL, Kerolin Nicoli has been a game-changing addition up front, consistently creating dangerous chances with her 1v1 play. With veterans Meredith Speck and Denise O’Sullivan holding the team to a high standard, the Courage appear poised to extend the club’s long history of success in the league.

3. Washington Spirit

The Spirit ended the Challenge Cup with the fewest amount of wins of the three undefeated teams, but with the longest unbeaten streak. Outside of two forfeits in September due to COVID-19 protocols, the 2021 NWSL champions haven’t lost since Aug. 7. They’re still working on coming out of the gate with more intensity, but once their front trio of Ashley Hatch, Trinity Rodman and Ashley Sanchez get in a groove, they are very difficult for teams to stop. In their group stage finale Saturday, the Spirit displayed some impressive team defense to salvage a draw with the Courage while playing without starters Andi Sullivan and Sam Staab.

4. Kansas City Current

The Central Division was perhaps the most competitive and unpredictable, with two clubs — the Houston Dash and Racing Louisville FC — tying at six points apiece. Kansas City was the outlier, earning 13 points to pull ahead of the second-place Red Stars by five, thanks in large part to the team’s depth. The Current were projected to improve this year after acquiring U.S. national team players Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams from North Carolina, but both were out of the Challenge Cup due to injury. Kansas City proceeded to dominate anyway behind the frontline duo of veteran Kristen Hamilton and rookie Elyse Bennett.

5. Portland Thorns

For the second time in just a few months, Portland has failed to advance in an NWSL competition because of an underdog. In November, the No. 4 Chicago Red Stars upset the Thorns in the NWSL semifinals. On Sunday, last-place Angel City blanked them 1-0 for their first win as a franchise. Granted, the Thorns were missing their head coach and five players in that game due to COVID-19 protocol. That match aside, Portland had a solid showing across the tournament with a handful of players stepping up in the absence of stars.

6. NJ/NY Gotham FC

Next to the Courage, Gotham FC was the second-biggest surprise of the Challenge Cup, and for the opposite reason. After adding Olympic bronze medalist Kristie Mewis and World Cup champions Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris, the 2021 Challenge Cup finalists appeared primed for success. But, despite being the oldest team in the NWSL by average age, they haven’t built chemistry as quickly as some might have thought for an experienced team. They also were tested early, competing in one of the toughest divisions with North Carolina and Washington.

7. Chicago Red Stars

The Red Stars have recently been without many key players due to injuries and trades, and unable to live up to the standard they set in the fall when they reached the NWSL championship game. They did, however, maintain a decent 2-2-2 record in the Challenge Cup. Defender Bianca St. Georges has become an important player on the backline, building on her breakout 2020 Challenge Cup before a quiet 2021. Mallory Pugh, before she suffered a concussion, was essential to the Red Stars remaining in the top half of the Central Division, netting four goals to place her among the top goal-scorers of the tournament.

8. Racing Louisville FC

Racing Louisville’s only two losses in the Challenge Cup unusually came against the Houston Dash, the last-place tema in the Central Division. Louisville has a group of hard-working subs who were able to turn around the team’s energy on several occasions, most notably in their 2-1 loss to Houston on Sunday despite the final score. As Louisville’s new players become more acquainted with the team, and the defense cleans up its technical errors, the team has what it takes to be a strong contender in the league this season.

9. San Diego Wave FC

The Wave, perhaps surprisingly, have come out as the stronger of the two 2022 expansion teams. The club has a bright future thanks to its promising rookie class, including center back Naomi Girma, game-changing substitute Amirah Ali and forward Kelsey Turbow, who has been key to the Wave controlling the center of the park. Sofia Jakobsson, a Swedish national team player competing in the NWSL for the first time in her career, has brought a fire to San Diego’s attack. With a number of individual talents, the Wave need more time to gel, but their competitive start bodes well for the regular season.

10. Houston Dash

The Dash finished the tournament as the only team with no draws. The inconsistency of their results — two wins and three losses — makes more sense when considering they used the Challenge Cup to experiment with new systems. In their most recent win over Racing Louisville, the Dash played three attacking midfielders, allowing them to press and capitalize on small mistakes in Louisville’s defensive third. María Sánchez had a standout tournament, solidifying her spot on the attack as the Dash adjust to losing midfielder Kristie Mewis to Gotham. They’ll have more adjusting to do at the start of the regular season after head coach James Clarkson was suspended based on initial findings in the NWSL and NWSLPA’s joint investigation into workplace conduct.

11. Angel City FC

Angel City is beginning to find their stride, especially after outplaying the Thorns in their first-ever win on Sunday. They scored in every game except one, a 3-0 loss to Portland, despite having 56.1 percent of the possession in that game. Overall, the Challenge Cup was a bit of a learning curve for Angel City as the club faced two of the strongest teams in the league, the Reign and the Thorns, two times each. A quickly developing team, ACFC has the potential to climb in the standings during the regular season.

12. Orlando Pride

The Pride are in for a ride this season, with nearly half the roster new to the club and head coach Amanda Cromwell embarking on her first professional season at the helm. They were tested through the second half of the Challenge Cup after Marta, their star attacker, was ruled out with a season-ending injury. The tournament, as a result, gave them a chance to adjust the lineup before jumping into regular season. Even with Marta on the pitch, it could take a couple of years for Orlando to contend for trophies.

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

PWHL Draft Spurs Controversy for League Champs Minnesota

pwhl draft first pick Sarah Fillier
PWHL New York kicked off the 2024 PWHL Draft by selecting Princeton's Sarah Fillier No. 1 overall. (PWHL)

The 2024 PWHL Draft took place on Tuesday, with Princeton and Canadian national team forward Sarah Fillier going first overall to PWHL New York. 

New York also added two defenders and a goaltender, as well as three forwards to make seven solid additions to next season's roster. 

But it was first-ever PWHL champions Minnesota that created the most buzz, with the draft happening just three days after they announced the abrupt departure of general manager Natalie Darwitz following a league review. 

With the 10th overall pick, PWHL Minnesota took Team USA forward Britta Curl. Fans immediately took to the internet to voice their concerns, citing Curl's social media activity. In the past, Curl had "liked" posts on X that targeted the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly transgender individuals. Her activity also showed support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Wisconsin man who fatally shot three unarmed people, two fatally, during a 2020 Black Lives Matter protest.

When asked about the pick — and whether or not he had consulted with any members of the LGBTQIA+ community prior to making the pick — PWHL Minnesota coach Ken Klee opted to defend Curl.

"Did I speak to anyone from the community? I talk with players, with coaches. That’s tough to answer for me," Klee said. "I spoke with a lot of different people. I mean, at the end of the day, I was told she’s a great teammate, a great person. She’s obviously a great player."

The team also had PWHL Minnesota assistant coach Mira Jalosuo, who is married to a woman, announce the pick.

"We have people in that community and obviously Mira making that selection for us, I think that speaks volumes for us," Klee added. "We were just trying to pick the best players available. I wouldn’t want anything to take away from any of those players' experience. It’s unfortunate a little bit at the beginning, but again, it’s okay. People are entitled to their opinion."

Washington Mystics Snap 12-Game Losing Streak

Brittney Sykes #20 of the Washington Mystics shoots the ball during the game against the Atlanta Dream during the 2024 WNBA Commissioner's Cup game on June 11, 2024
Washington guard Brittney Sykes returned from injury Tuesday night to post a game-high 18 points. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Washington Mystics snapped a team-record 12-game losing streak on Tuesday, taking home their first win of the season over the Atlanta Dream. 

Brittney Sykes returned from injury and made an immediate impact with game-high 18 points, four assists, and three rebounds. As a team, Washington shot over 50% from behind the arc.

"The feel is it's been coming," coach Eric Thibault said after the game. "I said the other night that we're turning into a good basketball team and we just haven't had the wins to show for it yet. We've been playing better basketball now for a while.

"We're obviously shooting well, but I think the quality of the shots we're getting is really good."

Still, the team’s slow start isn't exactly in the rearview mirror. With star forward Elena Delle Donne sitting this season out, the Mystics were always predicted to face an uphill climb in what has been described as a rebuilding year. 

But with a franchise-worst 0-12 record to kick off the 2024 season, the Mystics are likely on track for a lottery pick. However, Washington can point to positive performances from star draft pick Aaliyah Edwards and league newcomer Julie Vanloo.

Elsewhere in the WNBA, the Las Vegas Aces continued their skid with a surprising 100-86 upset courtesy of the Minnesota Lynx. The reigning WNBA champions were shorthanded this week, falling to 5-5 on the season despite MVP-level play from A'ja Wilson, who scored 28 points in Tuesday's loss.

Minnesota shot over 55% as a team, with Alanna Smith leading the team with 18 points. The game marked the Aces' first three-game losing streak since 2019.

"This is a long, long, long season," Wilson said in her postgame remarks. "I'm not going to press the panic button. I'm still going to bet on us. I know exactly what's in that locker room."

Aces stalwart Chelsea Gray has been out with injury since last year's WNBA Finals run. And while she told reporters on Tuesday that she's set to return before the Olympic break, the team can’t get her back soon enough as they continue to struggle with depth. 

"I don't want them thinking too much; then you get paralysis [by] analysis," coach Becky Hammon said. "We're just not being solid in our base. Just be solid defensively. We're not a very good team right now, that's just reality. But we know we can get better. I still have a lot of belief in this ball club."

USA Women’s Basketball Releases Olympic Roster, Explains Clark’s Omission

USA Women's Basketball's Diana Taurasi #12, Brittney Griner #15 and Sabrina Ionescu #6 at April's National Team Training Camp
All the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

USA Women's Basketball announced its official Olympic roster on Tuesday, with officials noting that Caitlin Clark’s lack of national team experience played a key role in her omission.

Selection committee chair Jen Rizzotti said that the committee evaluated players according to a set of on-court criteria they were given.

"When you base your decision on criteria, there were other players that were harder to cut because they checked a lot more boxes," she told reporters on Tuesday. "Then sometimes it comes down to position, style of play for [coach Cheryl Reeve] and then sometimes a vote."

Three first-time Olympians made the squad: Alyssa Thomas, Sabrina Ionescu, and Kahleah Copper. Additionally, Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum will make the switch to the national 5-on-5 team after winning gold in the inaugural 3×3 competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. 

Age, Rizzotti said, was "never brought up" in player selection discussions. It’s the first time in Olympic history that a USA Women’s Basketball 5-on-5 team will travel to the Games without a single player under 26 years old.

Rizzotti commented that all the players tapped for this year's Olympic roster have senior national team experience, something that Clark does not have.

"She's certainly going to continue to get better and better," USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley added. "Really hope that she's a big part of our future going forward."

Rizzotti said it would have been "irresponsible" to base roster decisions on anything outside of a basketball context. Marketing and popularity were not on the selection committee’s list of criteria. 

"It would be irresponsible for us to talk about her in a way other than how she would impact the play of the team," Rizzotti said. "Because it wasn't the purview of our committee to decide how many people would watch or how many people would root for the US. It was our purview to create the best team we could for Cheryl."

Clark expressed that she'll be using what some consider a snub as fuel for a run at the 2028 Olympic team. 

"I think it just gives you something to work for," Clark told media after practice Sunday. "It's a dream. Hopefully one day I can be there. I think it's just a little more motivation. You remember that. Hopefully when four years comes back around, I can be there."

Watch more: "Were Caitlin Clark and Arike Ogunbowale snubbed?" on Expert Adjacent

Arsenal Women Confirm US Tour, Preseason Friendlies

Arsenal's Lotte Wubben-Moy battles with Mayra Ramirez of Chelsea at the 2023/24 FA Women's Continental Tyres League Cup Final
The last time Chelsea and Arsenal faced off, the Gunners took home the FA Women's League Cup. (Copa/Getty Images)

Arsenal announced on Monday that it will join Chelsea for a series of preseason friendlies in the US in August. 

Arsenal will be based in Washington, DC from August 15th through August 26th. The Gunners are scheduled to play the Washington Spirit on August 18th, followed by a match with fellow WSL team Chelsea on August 25th. It’s the first time that the two London clubs will meet each other on this side of the Atlantic. 

Chelsea had previously announced their game against Gotham FC, confirming reports from ESPN that surfaced last month.

"We always want to create the best conditions for our teams to prepare and perform at their best in pre-season," said Arsenal sporting director Edu Gaspar in a statement. "This gives our players an opportunity to play and train in a new environment, in front of our supporters around the world."

Both Arsenal and Chelsea tout rosters full of international talent — formidable opponents for two equally stacked NWSL teams gearing up for postseason action. Arsenal is home to accomplished England nationals Leah Williamson, Beth Mead, and backheel goal-scorer Alessia Russo alongside Ireland captain Katie McCabe and USWNT defender Emily Fox.

The games are set to be streamed live for free on DAZN.

Arsenal's US tour builds off of a trip to Melbourne, Australia at the tail end of the 2023/24 season, where they beat A-League All Stars women 1-0 in front of 42,120 fans.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.