Over a quarter of the NWSL regular season has been played and some teams are beginning to jell while others are floundering. While a lot can and will change between now and the end of the year (this league is bonkers), some early season surprises have already mashed the league’s well-used chaos button.
Gotham and Washington ended last season on the bottom of the final table. Gotham conceded the most goals (46 in just 22 games) while the Spirit (who were defending champions) set a record for draws (10) and won only three matches. Both clubs were down tremendously bad, but after an offseason of change have already seemed to flip the script.
Gotham and Washington have new coaches, new styles of play and new players as well. Lynn Williams has scored six goals in eight games in all competitions for Gotham, while the Spirit have yet to lose and have matched their 2022 win total in just six games. Both are currently tied for second place with last year’s NWSL Champions, Portland Thorns. It’s early and they’ll have to navigate a tricky World Cup period, but both have shown that they’re no longer your one-year-old nephew’s Gotham and Spirit.
It’s hard to talk about the Spirit’s revamped squad without noting that former forward Tara McKeown is now one of their starting center backs. It’s fairly common to see attacking players moved to fullback, but forward to center back is a far deeper level of ‘say what now?’.
It’s working brilliantly. McKeown has started at the position since opening day and had her toughest test yet this past weekend. The newbie center back found herself frequently matched up with USWNT star Alex Morgan. McKeown not only held her own, but dominated the matchup, holding Morgan to a single shot, 0 dribbles completed, and forced her to lose four of the seven aerial duels she attempted.
With Ebony Salmon, Diana Ordóñez and María Sánchez, the Dash should be one of the most feared attacks in the league. Salmon scored nine goals in 12 starts with the Dash last season, Ordóñez set the rookie scoring record with the Courage in 2022 (11), and Sánchez creates a new highlight reel every time she steps on the pitch.
So far Houston has scored just three goals across six regular season games. Please read that sentence again because there’s no way it should be a mathematical or scientific truth.
New head coach Sam Laity hasn’t been able to find a combination to get the best out of any of them individually, let alone collectively. These things can take time, soccer puzzle pieces don’t just have to fit, they have to function. But so far they’ve caused very little worry for NWSL defenses, which should worry the hell out of everyone in Houston.
Casey Stoney is very likely not a happy person these days. The former Manchester United head coach built the team from scratch, got them promoted to the WSL in their first year of existence (2018), then turned them into a perennial top-4 team. In her first year with San Diego, the club became the first expansion team to make the playoffs and were a goal away from playing for a championship.
Historically, Stoney’s teams are very hard to beat. In the Wave’s inaugural season, they only allowed 21 regular season goals, less than a goal per game and the second best defensive record in the league. This season, the Wave have already conceded 10 goals in just six games. Ten. TEN!
They’re still in the top half of the table thanks to three wins, but if the Wave keep conceding like this it’ll be hard to maintain their position — and also they run the risk of Stoney flinging her cooler onto the pitch.