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  • Writer's pictureOliver Hunt

An NWSL Recap: Catch up with the league

If you’re a women’s soccer fan, odds are you’ve been very busy these past couple of weeks. Between international roster drops, closed-door World Cup prep matches, group stage upsets, and knock-out rounds starting up, there’s been more than enough international football to go around. But believe it or not, the NWSL is still in season while the World Cup carries on down under, and the league is currently gearing up for Challenge Cup semi-finals. There’s been a lot going on, so we thought it might be helpful for NWSL fans to check in with their teams below, and see what they’ve been up to these past couple of weeks. It’s the perfect time to do so, considering the league is currently on a break and will resume regular season play starting Friday, August 18th.

1. North Carolina Courage

The Courage have been continuing on with their season just fine without their World Cup players, continuing to stun the league by maintaining their place at the top of the table. They’ve only played three regular season matches since the World Cup kicked off, and they won two of those. But really, Courage fans should be excited about their team clinching the East Division of the Challenge Cup, cementing their place in the semi-finals. The Courage will be facing the Kansas City Current in the semis, looking to continue their Challenge Cup hot streak in which they recently scored six goals against the Spirit in just 22 minutes. They continued on triumphantly, shutting out Orlando with five goals. They are now unbeaten in 14 Challenge Cup matches, the longest streak in NWSL history. One of the most exciting things about that six-goal high scoreline, there were six different goal scorers, making that win a true team effort. If the Courage continue to keep up their incredible chemistry and team play, the rest of the league has much to worry about.

Next game: August 20th vs. Portland Thorns at 10:30 pm EST

NC Courage midfielder #13 Ryan WIlliams with the ball at her feet as Gotham FC #18 Yazmeen Ryan defends in a matchup at Red Bull Arena on August 5 | Photo Credit to Nala Burton for WSX

2. Portland Thorns

Through pure effort and being ahead of most teams already, the Thorns maintain their second-place standing even though they’ve had a poor go of things since their national team players went away. They didn’t make it out of the Challenge Cup division, but to be honest, no one was going to catch the Reign, who was the only team in the West to hit double digits in points. Out of the six matches played while without their international players, the Thorns have only managed to win one, a four-to-one victory over San Diego. But they’ve lost four and tied one, holding the Reign to a scoreless draw in their last Challenge Cup game. Portland simply hasn’t been scoring as many goals with the losses of Crystal Dunn and Sophia Smith. The Thorns are unlikely to fall very far in the standings, being relevant on goal differential alone, but teams on the outside will be eager to get an opportunity to slip in past the Thorns to playoffs.

Next game: August 20th vs. North Carolina Courage at 10:30 pm EST

3. NJ/NY Gotham FC

Gotham just barely misses out on the Challenge Cup with a tie to the Orlando Pride, knocking them out of the running. But things haven’t all been rainy skies over in Jersey, actually, though there has been a shocking lack of rain delays. Anyways, Gotham still has much to be excited about, holding third place in the standings and unlocking the full potential of a Swiss army knife and hopeful rookie of the year Jenna Nighswonger, who has been exceptional. When you combine youthful excellence with the return of Midge Purce, incredible things are bound to happen. The bats have managed to secure wins over Portland, Orlando, and North Carolina in regular season play and challenge cup games. Even though it wasn’t enough to get them into the semis, it seems Gotham will be gunning for the championship at full speed, and have a strong chance of getting there.

Next game: August 19th vs. San Diego Wave at 10 pm EST

Gotham FC's #23 Midge Purce striking a ball in a matchup against the North Carolina Courage on August 5 at Red Bull Arena | Photo by Nala Burton for WSX

4. OL Reign

The Reign continue to prove they have the deepest bench in the league by clinching a Challenge Cup semi-final with six shutouts. This is made even more wild by the fact that their number one keeper, Phallon Tullis-Joyce, never saw the field during a Challenge Cup match. Instead, Harvey rotated between her other two keepers, NWSL sophomores: Claudia Dickey and Laurel Ivory who stepped up and didn’t allow a single goal against the Reign in all six games, making them the first team in NWSL history to get through the tournament without conceding. Being the team with the most national team players to leave, eight with the last-minute addition of Angelina to Brazil, the Reign will be very excited to see their superstars return to hopefully get them a championship, a Challenge Cup, and celebrate Megan Rapinoe’s last season of professional football.

Next game: August 18th vs. Kansas City Current, 8 pm EST

5. Washington Spirit

The Spirit have slipped a bit in the standings, their defensive structure suffering from the loss of Aubrey Kingsbury and Andi Sullivan. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less of a threat, with Ashley Hatch holding things down at home, and scoring for her side when they really need it. The Spirit was unable to get the Challenge Cup berth, especially after suffering that very tough six-to-zero loss against the Courage. They’ve lost two of their three regular season matches during the break, but managed to hold the Wave to a 2 to 2 tie. But the Spirit bounced back and won their last two Challenge Cup games to go out of the tournament on a high note. With some of their international players already back (Riley Tanner, Marissa Sheva, and Gabrielle Carle) the Spirit are not going to back down from their attempt at a playoff run to recover from their less than ideal 2022 season. Their attack is lethal, and they’ve got everything to prove as they work on being this season’s worst to first Cinderella story.

Next game: August 19th vs. Houston Dash at 8:30 pm EST

Washington Spirit #13 Ashley Hatch in a run while Angel City #16 M.A. Vignola defends in a match at Audi Field on June 10, 2023 | Photo by Aralynn Minnick for WSX

6. San Deigo Wave

When you look at who departed for the Wave, it’s not surprising that they’ve been having a rough go of things. Without the support of Naomi Girma, Alex Morgan, and Kailen Sheridan, the Wave haven’t won a match since the World Cup players left for international duty. They finished last in the West division of the Challenge Cup with a total of four points, and five losses, having not won a Challenge Cup match since the opening game of the tournament. The Wave hasn’t been able to beat their rivals, losing to Angel City in a regular season game and settling for a 1-1 tie in Challenge Cup play. There are bright spots in this bleak moment though, and they are Taylor Kornieck, who has recently returned from injury, Danny Colaprico, and Jayden Shaw who have all been playing and scoring for the Wave during the last few games. But it hasn’t been enough, with the Wave falling in the standings and in danger of losing their spot in playoffs.

Next Game: August 19th vs. NJ/NY Gotham FC at 10 pm EST

7. Racing Louisville

The Big Purp has continued to Big Purp to everyone’s surprise, earning the last Challenge Cup semi-final spot for the first time in club history. They were the surprise last addition, getting their shot on points, unable to steal the central division from the Current. But it didn’t really matter as they moved on anyway, set to face off against Reign. Racing will be welcoming back seven international players, who showed up and showed out at the World Cup, scoring goals on goals while their teammates at home secured the Challenge Cup semis. Racing has been steady, which seems to be the trend for the club that always seems just within reaching distance of greatness. They’re holding themselves up in the middle of the standings, hopeful to make their first playoff berth. They’ve got the talent, and with a revamped sense of confidence, and probably more DeMelo bangers, Racing could see themselves over the playoff line in a few weeks.

Next game: August 19th vs. Angel City at 7:30 pm EST

Racing Louisville rookie #9 Kayla Fischer running with the ball as two KC Current players surround her in a Challenge Cup match on August 5, 2023 | Photo Credit to USA Today Sports Images and Racing Louisville FC

8. Orlando Pride

Holding their own in the standings, the best way to describe the Pride this season would be inconsistent. Their performances vary widely from game to game, from holding Gotham down to a Challenge Cup tie, to blowing out the Spirit three to one, and then beating the Reign a week later, only to fall to the Courage in a demoralizing five-to-zero scoreline. The Pride are, of course, without their Brazilian core, including the talents of Marta and Adriana. The biggest news out of this international break for the Pride was the addition of Brazilian defender Rafaelle Souza, who will no doubt help the Pride lock things down defensively. She’s got great talent to link up with already, with rookie Emily Madril getting better every game in the Pride’s backline. Not to mention fellow rookie Messiah Bright scoring twice so far during the international break. The Pride are within reaching distance of playoffs, and even though they won’t be going to the Challenge Cup, they’re still contenders for the championship and shouldn’t be counted out.

Next game: August 20th vs. Chicago Red Stars at 7 pm EST

9. Houston Dash

The Houston Dash are stumbling through their season, which has everyone kind of wondering what happened. Expected to have one of the strongest front lines in the league this year, the Dash had been mediocre at best. The Dash arguably had an advantage when international play began, considering Mexico didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year, leaving Ordóñez and Sánchez with Houston. But they have only won a single game in their last five and in those last five games, they were only able to score two goals, shocking considering the talent on their roster. Sam Laity had big shoes to fill after the Dash just qualified for playoffs for the first time in club history last season. But this year, it appears he can’t make up his mind in terms of tactics and formations, which leads to a lack of chemistry on the field. There’s not much point in having a field full of superstars if they can’t connect. There’s still time to turn things around, the NWSL is still the NWSL, but Laity needs to lock down a strategy and a starting lineup as soon as possible.

Next game: August 19th vs. Washington Spirit at 8:30 pm EST

Houston Dash captain Jane Campbell in a match against the Chicago Red Stars on May 23, 2023 at Shell Energy Stadium | Photo by Elyanna Garcia for WSX

10. Angel City FC

Even though the standings don’t show it, Angel City have been holding their own recently. After recovering from a tough start to the season, they’ve been slowly gaining back points and confidence. Los Angeles is unbeaten in their last seven matches, ever since the club parted ways with former head coach Freya Coombe. Beckki Tweed has taken the helm, standing in, and is probably well in the running to be their permanent head coach if the results continue to hold. Although unable to get out of the West division of the Challenge Cup, they did finish second in the standings and secured a tie and a win over their SoCal rivals, the San Diego Wave. They beat Portland with a two-to-one victory and a Savannah McCaskill masterclass. But their victories have been a true team effort, with the joy in their playing becoming more apparent. With Ali Riley, Julie Ertz, Jun Endo, and Alyssa Thompson set to return, the Angels could very easily be on their way to a playoff berth if they keep things up.

Next game: August 19th vs. Racing Louisville at 7:30 pm EST

11. Chicago Red Stars

It’s been a demoralizing season for the Chicago Red Stars, with the loss of Mallory Swanson really shaking their fervor and their ownership consistently in the air. But as a bonus, they didn’t have to change much during international play, simply covering for the losses of Alyssa Naeher and Chenya Matthews. These are huge losses for sure, but Chicago are sticking to what they know, keeping their formation in line and relying on support from their backline to hopefully fuel their attack. When this works, it really works (See: three to zero victory over the Houston Dash courtesy of 3 amazing Casey Krueger assists who then rightfully earned NWSL player of the week) They’ve got great young talent in Penelope Hocking, who got herself another brace in that game against the Dash. The Red Stars even pulled off a victory against the San Diego Wave back on July 1st. It’s no secret that Chicago has been having a really hard time, and it’s exciting to see the possibility of them winning games again. While it’s unlikely to result in a playoff clinch this year, only time will tell.

Next game: August 20th vs. Orlando Pride at 7 pm EST

Chicago Red Stars forward #7 Yuki Nagasato with the ball at her feet while Houston Dash #& Maria Sanchez runs in behind during a match at SeatGeek Stadium on August 5, 2023 | Photo Credit to IMAGN

12. Kansas City Current

The Current have thrown their effort into the Challenge Cup, earning the semi-final spot from the central division as the second seed. This is Kansas City’s second journey to the Challenge Cup, and they are hoping to take home the hardware and redeem themselves from a rough start to the regular season. Things have been looking up for the Current, who only lost one of their six Challenge Cup matches, and made history when Kristen Hamilton got a hattrick against Racing Lousiville, becoming the first player to do so in Challenge Cup play and the first player to get a hattrick for the Current in club history. The Current will be especially excited to welcome back Debinha with open arms, hoping to get some more goals to turn their season around from the bottom of the table. In their regular season matches, the Current got a win over Portland and another over Orlando but fell to Racing. Still, things are looking up in Kansas City, especially as their roster starts to heal and players like Elizabeth Ball and Morgan Gautart start to return to the pitch.

Next game: August 18th vs. OL Reign, 8 pm EST


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