NWSL tiers: Current are contenders, Spirit won’t repeat, and much more

Quick Hits
  • Now that the pressure’s on and the playoff push has officially begun, it’s time to revisit the NWSL tiers we created after the first quarter of the regular season
  • Which teams are contenders? Which ones are flops? And which ones are somewhere in the middle?
Aug 28, 2022; Kansas City, Kansas, USA; Kansas City Current midfielder Lo'Eau Labonta (10) reacts to her goal with teammates during the first half against the North Carolina Courage at Children's Mercy Park. Mandatory Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

After this weekend’s slate of games, most NWSL teams have only four games remaining in the 2022 regular season. There are only five points separating the league’s top six teams, so playoff positions are still in flux, even if some clubs have officially been ruled out of postseason contention. 

Now that the pressure’s on and the playoff push has officially begun, it’s time to revisit the NWSL tiers I created after the first quarter of the regular season. We have a “Real contenders” tier, an “I’m intrigued tier”, which holds the teams that have caught my eye this year, for better or for worse, and a “Maybe next year?” tier. Not every team is included in these tiers, but there’s still a little something for everyone.

Let’s get to it!

Real contenders

Thanks to the depth on their roster, the Portland Thorns have been really impressive all season. Portland had five players out on international duty this summer, but went on an 11-game unbeaten run that lasted from May 28 through August 10, with just their second loss of the season coming against North Carolina on August 24. 

Despite losing back-to-back games in August, the Thorns returned to their winning ways over the weekend, beating Orlando 2-0. They’re currently leading the league in goals scored (39), and look poised to end the season on a high note.

After missing the playoffs by one point last season, the Houston Dash are determined to avenge their 2021 losses. They’ve stayed above the playoff line since Week 2 of the regular season and have done so without former Dash legend Rachel Daly. Daly left the squad in June for the UEFA Women’s Euros before landing in the WSL.

Ebony Salmon, a mid-season acquisition for the Dash, is leading the team’s charge to the top of the table in Daly’s absence. Salmon has scored eight goals this season, including the second hat-trick in Dash history. They’re in fourth place right now, but are still firmly in the NWSL Shield race for the first time in their history after tying Angel City over the weekend. 

The Kansas City Current found themselves in my bottom tier in June, but have proved me very wrong. They’re in the midst of a 13-game unbeaten streak, with their most recent win against NJ/NY Gotham FC propelling them to first place in the standings. Lo’eau LaBonta, Kristen Hamilton, and Cece Kizer have each scored six goals for the Current in 2022, which is more than the entire Kansas City squad scored last season (15). The fact that the Current are dancing around the top of the table this late in the season after coming in dead last in 2021 has them in my top tier here. 

I’m intrigued

North Carolina started the regular season on the wrong foot after winning the 2022 Challenge Cup, but they’ve certainly played some of the most entertaining matches in the league this year. That’s because they’ve scored the second-most goals in the NWSL (38) and have conceded the third-most goals (31). Courage games are basically goal fests.

Entertainment value aside, it seems like the Courage might be finding their stride at the right time, and that’s why they’re in this middle tier. They’ve won four of their last five matches, which is ideal for a team that’s trying to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in their history. The Courage’s most recent performance against Racing Louisville was a dominant 5-1 win that moved them into eighth place. 

If Diana Ordóñez (11 goals), Debinha (7 goals, 1 assist), and Kerolin (5 goals, 4 assists) can keep up their attacking magic, they might lead this team into the playoffs in 2022.

The Orlando Pride probably won’t make the playoffs this season, but I have them in the middle tier because they’ve made some positive strides in the face of much off-the-field adversity. Despite being handed 5-0 and 6-0 losses in June at the hands of the Houston Dash and Portland Thorns, respectively, the Pride never threw in the towel.

Their most recent outing against the Thorns was a 2-0 loss, yet it was still a marked improvement from earlier in the season. The Pride have also managed to steal points from some top of the table teams in the second half of the season, including San Diego, Houston, and Kansas City.

Maybe next year?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the two pretenders on my list are also sitting at the bottom of the standings. 

The Washington Spirit just snapped their 16-game regular-season winless streak with a thrilling 4-3 victory over the San Diego Wave, but that’s not enough to move them from a bottom-tier spot. The reigning NWSL champions likely won’t make the playoffs even after they returned most of their trophy-winning roster and seemed poised for a repeat performance in 2022.

Racing Louisville are having a rough time on both ends of the pitch this season and they’ve officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Clearly, it’s not their year. 

Stats courtesy of American Soccer Analysis.