NWSL Power Rankings: Return to regular season showstoppers

The NWSL picked back up the regular season this weekend following the World Cup, and didn’t disappoint. There was an incredible amount of action, and exciting matchups that created riveting results, shifting things around in the standings and our rankings. Here are the revised power rankings after week 16.

Aug 20, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith (9) celebrates her goal
Aug 20, 2023; Portland, Oregon, USA; Portland Thorns FC forward Sophia Smith (9) celebrates her goal / Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

1. Portland Thorns

What other NWSL team can come back and secure a 2-1 victory over the current first-place team while playing with 10 on the field? The Portland Thorns are as inevitable as always, with Sophia Smith making her triumphant return to put the Thorns in the winning column. This marks the first time in history that a team has won a match after being shown a red card in the first half. That red card went to defender Kelli Hubly in the 17th minute for denying a goal-scoring opportunity just outside the box. The Thorns played with 10 for the rest of the match, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they were all over the field, putting them at the top of our rankings this week.  

2.     San Deigo Wave

The Wave got the better of Gotham this week, breaking a long winless streak for them and breathing life back into Snapdragon. Through a relentless pursuit of greatness, the Wave’s young talent shone through this week to get them a 2-1 win. It was almost a shutout, but they managed to give up a goal in the last few minutes of the match. Their young talent took center stage in this win, with Jayden Shaw setting up the first goal, and Melanie Barcenas becoming the youngest player to earn an assist in the NWSL. If they can follow this momentum into the coming weeks, the Wave will clinch a playoff berth in no time.

3.     North Carolina Courage

Even though the Courage didn’t get a win this week, they still showed tenacity against the Thorns. They managed to keep things together after conceding and had a strong defensive presence against one of the most proficient front lines in the league. But their usual chemistry was lacking in this match, unable to find smooth connections to progress the ball, finding themselves stifled in the midfield. Hopefully, this was just an off week for the Courage, and they’ll be back to their old selves in no time, as no team is immune to bad games.

4.     NJ/NY Gotham FC

As usual, Gotham’s strength lies in its mindset. That ‘never say die’ mentality was key to getting them through a truly chaotic match. After losing Midge Purce and McCall Zerboni to injuries in the first half, Gotham fought their way through a second half where they were down one. Unfortunately, they conceded another in the 85th minute and then the unthinkable occurred, and Abby Smith went down.

After being taken off the field, there were no more substitutions available for New York, and defender Nealy Martin stepped into the box for Gotham. Thankfully, she didn’t have to touch the ball as Gotham scrapped around in the box to get one back in second-half stoppage time. It’s safe to say this was an unusual match in the least, and hopefully, Gotham can bounce back from these injuries to find success along with the impending return of Lynn Williams and Kristie Mewis.

5.     Washington Spirit

The Spirit had less than 40 percent of the possession this weekend when they settled for a 1-1 tie against the Dash. But when they had the ball, they made the most of it. They had a few solid looks at goal, including some early shots and headers before the attack fizzled out. They fell out of formation, and turned over a lot of balls in the midfield, giving the Dash too much space to work in.

The efforts of Aubrey Kingsbury came in handy big time for this game, as she kept them in this one until Ashley Sanchez could get on the field and score a banger right off the bench. But her efforts were only half celebrated when the Spirit conceded in second-half stoppage time, giving up a goal to take their three points down to one. But they’re still a force to be reckoned with, especially when Trinity Rodman and Andi Sullivan return to help them finish out the season.  

6.     OL Reign

The Reign were on their heels during this match, which ended in a 1-0 loss, with their midfield simply being overwhelmed by the pace and prowess of Kansas City. It was the stellar backline that kept them in this game, blocking shots and winning tackles to keep KC at bay. They also missed a penalty kick gifted in the second half, just 10 minutes after they conceded a goal. But Jordyn Huitema was unable to get one past the amazing keeper skills of AD Franch. The Reign maintain their place in the power rankings due to their deep bench, stalwart backline, and the fact that five of the world’s best players are about to come back to the team and bring new life into the Reign’s second half of the season.   

7.     Orlando Pride

If anyone is set to make a comeback run this late in the season, it’s the Orlando Pride who have been slowly climbing the rankings the past few weeks. After starting off their season struggling to score, they haven’t been able to stop scoring as of late, getting a 5-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars. Their new midseason signing, Brazilian defender Rafaelle Souza, kicked off her first game in purple with a goal in the 15th minute. Afterwards, there was no stopping Orlando who ended up scoring five more and shutting out Chicago to walk away with three points. They also have one of this year’s most impressive rookies, Messiah Bright, who got her first career brace, scoring in the 24th and 49th minute.  

8.     Angel City

Things are looking steady but not exceptional for Angel City. The Los Angeles team hasn’t lost a game since interim head coach Becki Tweed took over for Freya Combe back in June. The team is holding themselves steady, mostly with the strength of their backline and the impressive play of Savannah McCaskill. Katie Johnson got them a point this week, but they conceded to Racing about 10 minutes later, giving up the full three. LA has had some impressive results in the past few weeks, beating Portland and North Carolina, but they’re going to need to make those results more consistent to make it to playoffs.  

9.     Kansas City Current

If the Current needs anything at this point in the season, it’s momentum, and this game was the beginning of them building it. They kept the Reign on their toes for a full 90 minutes, keeping things going and outpacing Seattle. They dominated in possessions and shots, feeding off an incredible home crowd. Their strength was the chemistry of the midfield and the backline, who were in perfect sync during this match. As well as an impressive PK save from AD Franch. The Current are starting to shape up nicely. Although it might be a little late in the season, better late than never.

10.  Racing Louisville

Racing played a strong performance against Angel City this week. They were quick on the ball, and excellent at breaking through the lines to get in behind Los Angeles. But they weren’t able to make cool and calm decisions once they got into the box. Their vision was clear, and they have impressive execution, especially from Savannah DeMelo who looked like she hadn’t missed a single game with her club team. But they tended to shoot too quickly, or cross a ball to no one and cause a turnover. If they improve on their finishing, they’ll become much more dangerous.

11.  Houston Dash

In an interesting matchup, the Dash held their own against the Washington Spirit this week. But they couldn’t make it out of this game with more than a point to show for their efforts. Despite having more possession over the course of ninety minutes, the Dash couldn’t get a shot off on target. They seemed to be running out of patience in the final third, usually going to goal way too early before their teammates could give them support. Or crossing the ball to the back post where no one was waiting receive it, giving it back to the Spirit. We’re still in the never say never portion of the season, but the Dash need to work on their build up and communication if they want to make the playoffs again.  

12.  Chicago Red Stars

Bringing up the rear this week, the Chicago Red Stars. The Red Stars lost their latest match against the Pride this weekend with a bruising 5-0 final scoreline. There wasn’t a rhythm between players on the field, and even having Alyssa Naeher back in goal couldn’t help the Red Stars get a win or even get on the board. Things connected better in the second half for the Red Stars, but not nearly fast or effectively enough to stifle Orlando’s hot streak. Hopefully, things will start to stabilize for Chicago soon now that they’re in serious talks about finally getting real owners again.

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