With no matches last weekend, Impetus’ Blaise Ogutu brings us a team-by-team account of how each of the sides has been progressing over the last month without their international players (27/7/22).
Halfway through the season, the 2022 NWSL is already shaping up for a grandstand finish during the regular season with teams still battling it out for the Shield and play-off positions. But this past weekend there was no league action as teams took a breather before properly kicking off the second half of the season.
While the season has been going on, there has been a number of international tournaments all around us. This means that for the most part of July, teams have had to make do without international players and so we take a look at how they have performed and what to expect for the next phase of the season.
SAN DIEGO WAVE
Within the three games, the top team managed to get a win, a loss, and a draw to maintain top spot. Heading into July without Alex Morgan, the goals have been hard to come by for Casey Stoney’s side. They have also missed the imposing presence of Taylor Kornieck in midfield and Naomi Girma in defence all on duty with the USWNT at the CONCACAF Championship. The loss of Kailen Sheridan to Canada wasn’t felt that much in SoCal as Carly Telford stepped up to fill the gloves and went on to produce one of the best performances last weekend against Racing Louisville. Up front, it was Makenzy Doniak and Kelsey Turnbow who stepped up when the goals were needed and might be worth a shout for Stoney in the remaining games.
Sitting pretty in second is Portland Thorns who can easily say the squad depth was more than sufficient during this period. Two draws and one win have them one point behind Wave FC with a game in hand and contrary to the log-leaders, Thorns still had firepower in front of goal. Despite losing forwards Sophia Smith, Christine Sinclair, and Janine Beckie to their international teams, Portland still managed to score eight goals in the three matches in June. An impressive 5-0 win over Gotham last weekend was the highlight of the month with players like Taylor Porter, Olivia Moultrie, and Morgan Weaver putting in amazing displays in front of a home crowd. They also managed to dig deep against a resilient Angel City side and net a 96th-minute equaliser through Yazmeen Ryan. With their regulars seemingly returning next week, Portland will be hoping to close the gap on San Diego and claim their second successive NWSL Shield.
CHICAGO RED STARS
Another one of the most consistent teams in the league, the Red Stars had a mixed bag of results in the three games with a win, loss and draw. Playing without Alyssa Naeher, Mallory Pugh (USA), Bianca St. Georges (Canada), and Chelsie Dawber (Australia U23s), they had no problems dispatching Gotham FC and coming back from two goals down to earn a point against North Carolina Courage. They did however lose 4-1 to Houston Dash at the PNC Stadium in Bayou City. Sarah Griffith and Ella Stevens earned their stripes during the three games with notable performances. Griffith came off the bench in electric fashion against Courage in the second half and got a goal. They also have captain Vanessa DiBernardo’s continued contribution to thank for her performances in midfield. Chris Petrucelli’s side still has a fighting chance for the Shield as they currently sit two points off the top but will need to be more solid defensively and hope the football gods have their back and the top two drop points.
The team from the Lone Star State are in fourth place and luckily snapped a two-game losing streak with an impressive win over Chicago before the break. They were missing Rachel Daly (England), Michelle Alozie (Nigeria), Michaela Abam (Cameroon), and Maria Sanchez (Mexico) who were with their respective national squads. Their absence alongside Canadian trio of Nichelle Prince, Sophie Schmidt, and Allysha Chapman saw the team drop six points in two games before bouncing back in the third game courtesy of an Ebony Salmon hat-trick. Their performance in that game seemingly improved with the inclusion of Sanchez on the flanks. Salmon rightfully took the plaudits from that night but an inspired performance on the left wing by Ryan Gareis especially in the second half was worth noting and she managed to get an assist for the third goal. Houston now need to keep the ship steady and avoid dropping unnecessary points if they are to maintain a play-off spot ahead of the chasing park.
KANSAS CITY CURRENT
Unbeaten in seven games, Kansas City was the only team to register three out of three wins during this period. This was made possible due to stunning displays from goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and not being too affected by the loss of international players. They had Desiree Scott (Canada), and Sydney Schneider (Jamaica) out. Apart from Franch, there have been other notable individuals in the form of Del Fava on the right wing having an incredible breakout, Hailie Mace and Cece Kizer also chipping in with goals of their own to propel the team firmly into play-off territory. The Current are hitting peak form at the right moment and picking up points from teams around them on the table and this will be crucial in the final stretch of the season.
OL Reign find themselves occupying the last play-off spot having dropped five points from a possible nine. For a defensively sound team, Laura Harvey’s side have struggled to find the back of the net. Missing the likes of Megan Rapinoe, Alanna Cook, and Sofia Huerta, the team still looked good enough to perform on paper. Bethany Balcer still found herself on the end of crosses and new recruit Kim Little returned to the NWSL with the same vigour she left with. In their last game against Kansas City, despite being down early on, they piled the pressure and created chances but couldn’t get past Franch effectively losing their four-game win streak. They do have a stacked squad going into the second half of the season. Tobin Heath made her debut against Kansas City and with that kind of quality, it is hard not to see them sit higher on the table at the end of the season.
ANGEL CITY FC
In a season that has been marred by a minor injury crisis, Angel City still have some fight in them to contend for the play-off spot. They had Vanessa Gilles (Canada) and Allyson Swaby (Jamaica) out on international duty but still managed to grind out a dramatic 2-1 win over fellow Californians San Diego. Their newest recruits, Sydney Leroux and Claire Emslie look to have settled in quickly with the latter providing the winning goal at the Banc of California Stadium. With Christen Press out, Leroux will be tasked with finding the back of the net as much as possible to see them get a play-off spot come the end of the season.
Following the departure of Sydney Leroux to the west coast and a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Portland Thorns, the Orlando Pride’s problems seemed to be mounting. This couldn’t have been any more wrong as the team has managed to get two draws and a win to send them further away from the foot of the table. One element to this improved form has been forward Darian Jenkins whose performances have given head coach Seb Hines a reason to smile. They had only one player out on international duty (Gunny Jonsdottir with Iceland) Kylie Strom has also been putting a shift in defence and attack getting two goals in three games. With Leroux gone for the second half of the season, Jenkins has to carry the load of producing the goods in front of goal but she won’t be alone with the way Erika Tymrak is playing right behind her in midfield.
NY/NJ GOTHAM FC
With one win sandwiched between two losses, Gotham are a mixed bag of fortunes. They have been missing Estelle Johnson, Kristie Mewis, Ifeoma Onumonu, and Midge Purce on international duty and it has reflected on their performances. They have been shaky defensively and goals have dried up compared to last season. They looked toothless in the two losses but a shining moment for them came from newly-acquired Taylor Smith who scored the winner against Racing Louisville. A real challenge awaits Scott Parkinson’s charges and the return of the internationals could breathe some life into the side but the clock is ticking.
They haven’t really gotten going this season and with the individuals like Emily Fox (USA) and Nadia Nadim (Denmark) away for international duty, the team finds themselves in tenth. Winless in the three games played, the team has struggled to keep leads and turn draws into wins. They have Savannah DeMelo to thank for some good performances. Australian Alex Chidiac has also been a positive for the side in the middle of the park and Katie Lund in goal too. They did have an improved game against San Diego last time out and had to credit Lund for her saves during the game. They will be hoping to build on this for the remainder of the season to see what they can salvage.
They look a world of difference from last season’s title-winning team. Injuries and a packed schedule haven’t been kind to the squad and with their internationals gone, Spirit had two losses and one draw within the month of July. Even with individuals like Kingsbury, Trinity Rodman, and Ashley Sanchez in the squad, they haven’t looked decent at any point in the season. They drew against Orlando Pride last time out and that wasn’t a good sign as they didn’t have the cutting edge to sneak past Orlando.
NORTH CAROLINA COURAGE
The team with the least amount of games played, the sit at the bottom of the pile with only eight points from nine games. Their last match against Angel City had to be postponed due to COVID-19 protocols but the two previous games were not anything to write home about. They have been missing Diana Ordonez (Mexico), Kerolin, and Debinha (Brazil) on international duty. For the second half of the season where most likely they will have a bunch of games to play more than the rest, coach Sean Nahas will have to pull a worldie to move the team further up the table. They will have to avoid conceding too many goals, particularly in the last minute like they did against Chicago Red Stars two weeks ago.