What do you think would be easier: picking winning lottery numbers or predicting the NWSL regular season standings? Statistics would probably tell you that predicting the standings is the right answer, but experience insists that picking the winning lottery numbers is more likely to happen.
It’s just incredibly hard to guess how the NWSL season will shake out until we’re in the thick of it. Part of that is because of the parity that exists in this league. With real, but crossable, gaps separating the best from the worst in the NWSL, the last place team is capable of toppling the team in first place during any given weekend.
In 2023, the margins are even tighter than usual. Through the first half of the regular season, the gap between the top and bottom teams is the smallest it’s been in recent years.
The parity alone makes outcomes pretty hard to predict, but it becomes even more difficult when teams start taking the league by surprise, either by exceeding expectations or totally missing the mark. Now that we’re a little past the halfway mark of the regular season, let’s talk about five of those surprises.
North Carolina Courage: New team? No problem.
The North Carolina Courage have been in playoff position since matchday seven and have found themselves in the top three of the standings in back-to-back weeks – it’s almost like we’ve returned to the 2018-2019 era. It was very, very hard to predict this coming ahead of this season.
Why? Well, the Courage only returned players who accounted for just over half of their 2022 minutes, so this 2023 squad is brand new. Their offseason saw the departure of players who had become mainstays in the North Carolina lineup as well as the addition of all four of their 2023 draft picks. With that much change, it was difficult to imagine that the Courage would find sustained success this season.