NWSL stats: The good, the bad, and the unlucky from the regular season

Quick
Hits
  • We’re almost at the halfway point of the NWSL regular season, so let’s take a step back and evaluate each team’s performance so far in 2022
  • Which teams are thriving? Which ones are struggling? And which ones are getting a little lucky? The data can help us answer those questions

This is an excerpt from Monday’s Weekend Recap. Subscribe to our free newsletter to get future editions of the Weekend Recap delivered right to your inbox.

The 2022 NWSL regular season is approaching its halfway point, with teams having played between nine and 13 games of the 22-game season. The league is also entering another (short) break, so now’s a good time to take a step back and evaluate each team’s performance through the first half of the season.

To do this, I took a page out of Eliot McKinley’s book and used American Soccer Analysis data to explore how good, bad, and unlucky teams have been this season. We determine whether teams have been ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by comparing their expected points per game to the league median. Then, we determine how ‘lucky’ a team’s been by calculating the difference in points and expected points per game for each team. ‘Lucky’ teams over-perform their expected points, while ‘unlucky’ teams under-perform them.

Simple enough? Onto the graphic!

The Good and Lucky Ones

The Chicago Red Stars are occupying the “Good & Lucky” quadrant here, which is potentially unsurprising given their recent form.

Coming into this weekend, the Red Stars were on a nine-game unbeaten streak. All good things must come to an end though, and Chicago’s streak was snapped in Houston over the weekend. The Red Stars fell 4-1 to Houston on the road after Ebony Salmon scored the second hat trick in Dash history.

Angel City FC are keeping the Red Stars company in this quadrant. Angel City didn’t play this weekend after their match against the North Carolina Courage was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. Last week, though, Angel City beat the San Diego Wave at home. Claire Emslie scored the game-winner in the 81st minute, shortly after the home side was forced to play with 10 players in the wake of a Tyler Lussi red card.

The Unlucky Ones

The four teams sitting in the ‘Good & Unlucky’ quadrant are the Portland Thorns, San Diego Wave, OL Reign, and Washington Spirit.

Math and statistics notwithstanding, one might guess that Portland, San Diego, and OL Reign would find themselves in one of the ‘Good’ quadrants just by looking at the NWSL standings. After this weekend of games, San Diego and Portland sit in the first and second spots, respectively, while OL Reign is in sixth place. 

The San Diego Wave have been in first place for most of this season, and they battled to a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Racing Louisville this weekend to stay on top of the table. The play of the match was San Diego’s Carly Telford stopping a Savannah DeMelo penalty kick in the 73rd minute to keep the score even.

The Portland Thorns are right behind the Wave, with 21 points and one game in hand. The Thorns routed NJ/NY Gotham FC at Providence Park on Saturday, with five different players scoring in the 5-0 victory. With the clean sheet, the Thorns have officially posted shut outs in half of their regular season games (6). Morgan Weaver capped off the scoring in the 80th minute after she took advantage of a questionable distribution decision by Gotham’s veteran goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

The OL Reign slid from fourth to sixth place following their 1-0 loss at Kansas City on Sunday. At the Reign’s expense, the Current extended their (lucky?) unbeaten streak to seven.

The Reign’s defensive work has kept them in the top half of the table so far this season, as they’ve allowed the fewest number of goals in the league, with seven conceded across 12 games. A struggling attack has been an ongoing theme for this OL Reign side in 2022, though, which doesn’t quite make sense when one considers the attackers on their roster. Speaking of attackers, USWNT legend Tobin Heath made her return to the NWSL for the first time since 2019, coming in at the 78th minute for Jess Fishlock against Kansas City. 

It might be surprising that the Washington Spirit have found themselves on the ‘Good’ side of our visualization, since they’re sitting in 11th place, just two points ahead of the North Carolina Courage who have played four fewer games than the Spirit have.

Through 13 games, the Spirit have only won a single game. In fact, the last time Washington won was when they played the OL Reign on May 1st in their first game of the regular season. They most recently drew the Orlando Pride 0-0 at home on Sunday.

It’s not for lack of trying, though. The Spirit have posted 18.08 xPoints, even though they’ve only secured 10 of them. 

While this metric doesn’t take an off-the-field pulse for the team, the Washington Spirit were dealt an unlucky hand from the start. The team played an extremely high volume of games through the first third of their season, and it seems like they haven’t quite recovered from that just yet. To add insult to injury, seven of their players have been away for international duty since the end of June. 

They’re only seven points off of a playoff position, so not all hope is lost for the reigning NWSL champs. But if the Spirit continue on this trajectory, they won’t have a chance to defend their title.

The Not So Good Ones

Of the six teams that have found themselves on the ‘Bad’ side of this graphic through the first half of the season, one of the two ‘Luckiest’ teams on this metric really caught my eye. 

The Houston Dash’s dominant win over the weekend catapulted them into fourth place, finally above the playoff line. The victory was the first for new Houston head coach Juan Carlos Amoros. 

On their way to the top half of the table, the Dash have scored the third-most goals of all teams this season, only behind Portland (27) and Chicago (20). They’ve done so by consistently over-performing their xG. Houston’s put 19 goals in the back of the net on just 13.09 xG. This weekend alone, the Dash scored four goals on 1.0 xG. 

This is not the first time they’ve blown their xG out of the water. In the other Houston game this season that saw a hat trick, the Dash scored five goals on 1.32 xG. Houston had less than 1% probability of scoring five goals from the shots they took during that game.

If Houston’s attack can keep this up, it might just push them into playoff position for the first time in club history. But if the Dash’s luck runs out, they might have a repeat of last season, when they missed the postseason by a single point.

The NWSL regular season is set to return on Friday, July 29th at 7:30 p.m. ET when the North Carolina Courage take on the Washington Spirit at home.