NWSL Power Rankings: Angel City surging while Courage lead pack

With another trophy behind them, Sean Nahas' Courage sit at the top of the league power rankings with just four games remaining for each club.
North Carolina Courage v Portland Thorns FC
North Carolina Courage v Portland Thorns FC / Amanda Loman/GettyImages

This is where you want to be playing your best football. This is where it matters the most. Fold, or flourish? That is the question the next few weeks will answer in the highly competitive NWSL.

With the table as tight as it is, there is really no team completely out of the playoff picture just yet. Following a week's hiatus for the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup semifinals and final, league play returns with six matches beginning on Friday night. Four contests are left in the season for every club with six points the difference between eighth and the top of the table. Here is a look at where the 12 teams rank against each other before another wrench is thrown into the plans of a top side.

NWSL Power Rankings heading into Week 19:

1. North Carolina Courage

What more can you say? The club from North Carolina knows how to do one thing, win. If you count the three NWSL regular season Shields, the Courage have compiled eight pieces of silverware since relocating from the doldrums of Western New York to NC.

With players like 19-year-old Manaka Matsukubo in addition to superstars like Kerolin, these winning ways are not going to disappear any time soon. Despite the fact that Sean Nahas' side has not won a league match since July 1, there is no other place to put this club after they lifted a second straight Challenge Cup. Behind a strong defense, and a physical and well-rounded midfield, NC's attackers have been able to finish the job in the final third.

Possession is turning into wins. Currently in third, the top seed for the postseason is still in reach, especially with a match against San Diego Wave coming up. Nahas and his staff already know what it takes to reach the pinnacle of a competition. It would surprise absolutely nobody if this club manages to hoist one or even two more trophies in the coming months.

2. San Diego Wave

Just a few weeks ago, Casey Stoney's San Diego Wave were on the brink of being pushed out of the playoff picture. Now, after three straight league wins, the southern California side sits a point clear in the top spot. The struggles in the confines of Snapdragon Stadium are now a thing of the past.

Led by a Jaedyn Shaw goal against Houston, San Diego not only took three points for the third consecutive game, but it also proved victorious in its second successive home fixture. With USWNT defender Abby Dahlkemper back in the mix and scoring goals, the Wave are more than capable of keeping hold of that No. 1 seed. They quite possibly have the toughest schedule left out of any club — with trips to both Portland and North Carolina — but the energy surrounding the team at this point is nothing but positivity.

3. Portland Thorns

Since 2021, Portland Thorns have never finished a campaign without at least one trophy. With Sophia Smith's knee injury not being the "worst case scenario" according to reports, the Thorns could have their star back to continue this trend sooner rather than later.

Until then, Morgan Weaver, Sam Coffey and Hannah Betfort among others will have to carry the load. Even with an early goal, a Smith-less Portland side could not hang on against Racing last time out. That defeat sunk the defending champions to second following the Wave's one-goal win over the Dash. Though this team is talented from top to bottom, Smith is a complete game-changer. The idea should be to attempt to keep their heads above the water until she returns.

4. NJ/NY Gotham FC

Juan Carlos Amorós' NJ/NY Gotham FC looked down and out in Cary in week 18. Down by two goals twice, the Gotham side fought back to earn one point on the road in Katie Stengel's final match for the club. In less than 30 minutes between the white lines, Margaret Purce, and new Gotham player Esther González shifted the momentum.

The two combined for five shots and a goal as Purce netted the equalizer in the 82' with some help from Lynn Williams. In reality, it is just a point, but to those players, it is much more than that. González has the potential to be a leader on the pitch for this New York side as she continues to get acclimated to the new environment post-World Cup. Amorós' team is three points clear of the postseason drop zone with a meeting against a team just one point behind it on tap.

5. Racing Louisville

All did not go the way of the Kentucky side during the Challenge Cup Final. That does not mean the same will occur the rest of the season. Equipped with an incredibly deep squad and a solid defense led by Abby Erceg and Katie Lund between the sticks, Racing has all the tools to make some noise.

Kim Björkegren's team are just two points out of the playoffs but are in much better form in the team sitting ahead of it in sixth position. Across all competitions, seven Louisville players have three or more goal contributions. The club is unbeaten in its last five league contests, taking down the Thorns most recently via two second-half goals in front of the Racing faithful.

6. Angel City FC

The Becki Tweed effect is a real thing. It has been well-documented that teams across sports succeed within the first couple of weeks of firing a new coach. Not only is that true for Angel City, but that success has been able to be sustained. The last match that the Los Angeles side lost was on June 10. That includes both the Challenge Cup and the league. It seems like yesterday that Tweed's team was in the mix with KC Current and Chicago Red Stars in the basement. Those days are gone. In the second campaign of existence, this club will be fighting for postseason football until the very end.

During ACFC's current nine-match unbeaten run, it earned three points against North Carolina, Portland in the cup, and recently OL Reign at BMO Stadium. With 33-year-old Amandine Henry now on board in addition to Jasmyne Spencer playing the way she is, Angel City are prepared to take hold of one of those final two playoff spots.

7. OL Reign

Since its two-goal comeback against Racing on the first of July, nothing OL Reign has done has been impressive. When Laura Harvey wants her team firing on all cylinders, the Seattle side looks underwhelming, to say the least. Though Harvey's team took three points vs. Orlando in week 18, it was done against 10 players for 87 minutes.

In Megan Rapinoe's final season, and with so much talent, there has to be a point where they turn the corner. In the midst of the knockout semifinal at Lumen Field against Louisville, the Reign were far from clinical. Two of its 16 shots forced Lund's attention. No successful recipe in this sport features that stat line.

With four games left, the schedule for the defending Shield winners is pretty unfavorable. It begins with the rival Thorns this week followed by the Challenge Cup champions the following week. Separated from the playoff line by just three points, there is little room for error left if playoff football is in its future.

8. Washington Spirit

Back-to-back encouraging victories to close out its Challenge Cup campaign has not fixed Washington Spirit's league form. With two straight 1-1 draws in their back pocket heading into week 18, the Spirit fumbled an opportunity against arguably the league's weakest side.

Despite having the majority of the ball, and the better of the chances, Washington failed to take care of business against the Red Stars. Alyssa Naeher made eight saves for Chicago while Mark Parsons' team allowed two goals on two shots on net. Even with a draw against northeast counterparts Gotham, Racing and even ACFC could surpass the Spirit with a week 19 triumph each.

Credit had to go to the Red Stars' defense and their attack which took advantage of a lazy Spirit backline that struggled to track their marks on both goals. Washington may be above the line, but with performances like that, the plummet will continue.

9. Orlando Pride

After a five-goal display at home a few weeks ago, Seb Hines' team was flying with its newcomers fitting right into the side. Since, luck just really has not been on its side. The Pride have lost consecutive games by one goal including one last week in which they battled with 10 players on the road.

Orlando was not poor against the Wave either as Kyra Carusa's brilliant goal in the second half made all the difference in the end. On 22 points with 360 minutes of football on the clock, Hines' crew has a shot. It is not as clear-cut as the two in-form clubs in seventh and eighth, but there is a chance. Following a tough challenge against NC, Orlando takes on both Angel City and Louisville. Those fixtures will without question decide the Pride's fate in 2023.

10. Kansas City Current

Considering how the first season with Debinha was going, the Challenge Cup was quite possibly the only chance to salvage some sort of success on the field. That was why Brianna Pinto's goal was so gut-wrenching. Caroline Sjöblom is more than likely not going to be the manager for the foreseeable future. 2024 is a completely new year with a brand-new stadium. That's the future though. As for now, KC has labored to find the back of the net in league play.

Only the Houston Dash have fewer goals in the regular season than the Current. There will be one week where KC grinds out a one-goal victory. Building off that is the problem. There is no question whether the future of this team is bright, but with four weeks left in this campaign, the playoffs are in all likelihood out of reach.

11. Houston Dash

Change is happening in the Space City, and it is happening fast. Within a span of just two days last week, Houston sacked head coach Sam Laity after 18 games in charge and sold striker Ebony Salmon to Aston Villa of the Women's Super League. Sarah Lowdon is slated to take the reins temporarily for the rest of the season.

Before it all began, many thought Houston had one of the best-attacking lines in the league. Fast forward to now, the Dash have the NWSL's worst offense in terms of goals scored. The team has not won a league contest since June 3 at home vs. the Pride. With not much left to play for, Lowdon's focus has to be on snapping that winless streak.

12. Chicago Red Stars

When it comes to points, Chris Petrucelli's Red Stars are not at the very bottom. Goal differential tells a completely different story. With Mallory Swanson out of the picture for the majority of the season, it was an uphill climb. It is all about building the foundations for next season with four games left.

An impressive win on the road against the Spirit is a good starting point. Petrucelli's team is not going to roll over. Two-straight quality results have demonstrated that. The goal should be to carry that momentum from the Washington match into the last four. Start from the back going forward. The defense has not been great all season, but that does not mean it cannot piece together quality displays to close this out.

The NWSL resumes league play on Friday, September 15 at 7:30 when the UKG NWSL Challenge Cup runners-up host Houston Dash on Paramount+.