NWSL Power Rankings: Esther and Gotham soaring, Reign and Spirit sinking

Week 19 in our NWSL Power Rankings saw a Spanish World Cup star welcomed on the east coast while OL Reign's struggles continued on the road on the other side of the country.

Washington Spirit v NJ/NY Gotham FC
Washington Spirit v NJ/NY Gotham FC / Ira L. Black - Corbis/GettyImages

Each week in the NWSL is its own movie. Just make sure you throw the script out from last week. With three match weeks until the conclusion of the regular season, legitimately anything can happen — and that's reflected in our latest NWSL Power Rankings.

Week 19 saw a team in the bottom three of the table upset the league's No. 1 seed heading into Friday. The Challenge Cup champions were shocked for the first time since hoisting their trophy, falling on the road to a side currently out of the postseason picture. One week the standings look one way. The next, it's a completely different story.

The only thing that remains consistent in these NWSL power rankings is the competitiveness from top to bottom. Here is what the field looks like, ranked from No. 1 to No. 12 as each club heads into the international hiatus.

NWSL Power Rankings coming off chaotic Week 19

1. Portland Thorns

No Sophia Smith in the NWSL's biggest rivalry. No problem. Mike Norris' Portland Thorns netted two goals within the span of six minutes in the first half to give OL Reign its fourth defeat in its last five games across all competitions. Becky Sauerbrunn made her return to the starting lineup, serving as the right-sided center back within a back four for the first 45 minutes. Sam Coffey and Raquel Rodriguez were brilliant in the middle of the park, combining for 12 progressive passes throughout the contest.

With a goal in the 36', Morgan Weaver joined Smith as the first Thorns' pair to net double-digit goals in a single league campaign. Losses by the North Carolina Courage and San Diego Wave have provided the defending champions with a two-point lead at the top of the table.

2. NJ/NY Gotham FC

With World Cup champion Esther Gonzalez now donning the Gotham colors, the New York/New Jersey side are must-watch television. In her home debut at Red Bull Arena, the former Real Madrid forward did not disappoint. Alongside USWNT attackers Lynn Williams, and Margaret Purce, Gonzalez found the back of the net twice within a five-minute span.

The combination of Williams and Purce flying down the flanks accompanied by Gonzalez and Katie Stengel who recently made her loan move permanent should terrify the entirety of the league. The high press of the home side caused all sorts of problems for Washington Spirit. The first breakthrough came from a turnover by the Spirit in their defensive third while the second one began with a goal kick from Amanda Haught. Gonzalez has unlocked a new dimension to this frontline, taking the pressure off of Williams to convert at each chance that comes her way. It is just two contests into her career in New York, but it is quite evident she has the capabilities to lead this club to a title.

3. San Diego Wave

A defeat on home soil against a determined and talented Kansas City Current team is not the end of the world for San Diego Wave. After three games of taking all three points, it was only a matter of time before the competitiveness of this league got to them. San Diego has contests against North Carolina and Portland on tap next, giving it the opportunity to rise to the top of the table and this list by season's end.

It only took two shots on goal for KC to win the game while the Wave converted just one of their six shots on target. Tied for the most triumphs in the NWSL with Portland, Casey Stoney's team sits tied with Gotham, two points behind the Thorns for the top spot.

4. North Carolina Courage

A goal by standout youngster Manaka Matsukubo in the second half was not enough to overcome North Carolina's lackluster start to the contest. The achievements in the cup should not distract the public from the fact that the Courage have struggled in the league recently. It may come to surprise many, but the last time Sean Nahas' side was victorious outside of the Challenge Cup was back on the first day of July. Few are better at bouncing back than the Courage.

For the second consecutive campaign, the beginning part did not go their way. Similar to this current streak, NC kicked off the league season winless in its first five contests. A Tyler Lussi winner at home against OL Reign began the club's resurgence into a contender. Credit to Orlando. That team came to play against the back-to-back cup winners.

5. Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride did not waste any chances, delivering a goal within the first minute at Exploria Stadium this weekend. Adriana otherwise known as "The Wizard", the Pride's dynamic No. 9 amassed at least two goal contributions for the second time in the last three league fixtures. Seb Hines' team, with all three points, is one point off the playoff line, tied with Angel City FC on 25 points.

With the kind of form Washington is in right now, Orlando is in prime position to make a shocking leap into the top six. Before the campaign started, nobody would have believed you if you thought the Florida outfit was going to punch a ticket to the postseason. An improvement, for sure was in the cards. The playoffs were a long shot. Now, behind several key additions and a brilliant head coach, the Pride are on the brink of locking up post-regular-season soccer for the first time since 2017.

6. Angel City FC

It was right there for the taking. Cheyna Matthews' sheer grit in the frontline for the Chicago Red Stars prevented Becki Tweed's Angel City side from catapulting into the top six. A point is still a point. In a race as close as the one this season, securing something away from home is important. Following the international break, ACFC returns to BMO Stadium for what has to be considered the week 20 match of the week.

Two clubs knotted up on points, fighting to earn their right for extra soccer. Under the tutelage of Tweed, this Los Angeles club is rolling. The last time the southern California outfit fell short in any single contest across all competitions was on June 10 at Audi Field when two of Washington's USWNT stars converted a chance apiece.

7. Washington Spirit

The days when Mark Parsons' team was sitting in the top three of the table have come and gone. The club has musted just three points combined in its last seven league fixtures. The last time Trinity Rodman had a goal contribution was on June 3. That says a lot. The talent is there. It is just not coming together at the right time.

You can't win if you don't score, and despite possessing an extremely dynamic attacking line led by Rodman and Ashley Hatch, Washington has not found the back of the net in its last 180 minutes of soccer. Whenever chances come the Spirit's way, they are usually wasteful. Their postseason life is in its own hands. The club is just one point above the playoff line.

8. OL Reign

The No. 1 seed in this year's Challenge Cup has not been able to find any sort of consistency since the calendar flipped to July. The only league win OL Reign secured since that month was against a 10-player Orlando team that held it to just one goal. Seven and eight in these rankings are interchangeable. Both Washington and the Reign are as out of form as it gets at this point in the season.

A legend like Megan Rapinoe cannot go out like this. Three weeks are left for Laura Harvey's team to get back in form or the USWNT star may see her club career end without an NWSL championship. It could have easily been more than just 2-0 in favor of the defending champions. Eight shots forced a save from the Seattle side's goalkeeper. Harvey-led clubs are better than what was displayed this past weekend. If the alarm bells are not ringing now, there surely will be if a result is not earned vs. North Carolina in week 20.

9. Kansas City Current

No fear was in the eyes of the Kansas City Current heading into Snapdragon Stadium against the then No. 1 seed in the league. With the help of what is hands down the goal of the season by Debinha, Kansas City used two shots on target to head into the break four points adrift from a playoff spot. Caroline Sjöblom's side did not throw away any chances on the road. That's a recipe for success. Two quick-fire goals in the first 22 minutes proved to be all the Current needed as Adrianna Franch held it down between the posts.

Given the fact that the club sits in 11th, the possibility of postseason soccer is still there. Two very winnable games are next for KC before the league's most ambitious club takes on Gotham to round things out. Don't sleep on a team with as much talent as the Current. Debinha is electric, and if Kristen Hamilton can get hot in front of the net, it is tough to slow down last season's runners-up.

10. Racing Louisville

Whenever you come up against a side with a new leader on the sideline, you know the players are going to be geared up and ready to go. Despite having been piecing together quality performances in NWSL play recently, Racing Louisville checked out for one cross and were punished for it.

There were chances to salvage a draw, especially in the final attacking play of the contest. Emina Ekic was provided a free header from the Houston defense, but could not find the target. Carson Pickett laid it on the platter for Ekic to ripple the netting. It was just not meant to be on that night. Kim Björkegren knew it on the sideline. Everyone knew it. That could be something this side regrets when it is all said and done. Against the bottom of the table Red Stars, Racing has a golden opportunity in the first week after the break.

11. Houston Dash

The Sarah Lowdon effect is a real thing. The combination that Sam Laity had been wanting to unlock all season finally found a connection to win Houston Dash a tough three points in Louisville. The Diana Ordóñez and Maria Sanchez partnership propelled the Dash to their first league victory since the beginning of June. It puts the side from the Space City three points off the playoff line.

As usual, the Mexican winger, Sanchez was brilliant creating chances for the orange and black. Now that Ebony Salmon is a member of the Women's Super League, even more attention is going to be geared toward the left winger. New signing from AS Roma, Andressa Alves impressed at times during her 68 minutes which included a moment where she delivered a slick back-heel pass to Sanchez to set up a shot for the Mexican striker.

12. Chicago Red Stars

In front of a passionate fanbase in Chicago, the Red Stars battled Angel City to a thrilling 2-2 draw. Leading into the weekend, many fans would have stayed away. Somehow, it ended up being one of if not the best contest of the six. Chris Petrucelli's team was down twice but never gave up. Ava Cook and Cheyna Matthews, two of the club's four substitutes on the night scored both goals.

It may be a long shot, but the Red Stars could shock the world if it all falls their way in the weeks to come. The team is desperately missing Mallory Swanson and the midfield depth that became such a hallmark of the side for so many years. Without Alyssa Naeher, who knows how many points Chicago would have right now. Sunday was the third time in the last five games that the USWNT star made four or more saves.

The NWSL takes a week off for the international break, returning on Saturday, September 30 beginning at 7:00 p.m. EST when Kansas City Current travel to the nation's capital.