Connect with us


How Orlando Pride and Washington Spirit execute high-octane attacks on early-season NWSL success



How Orlando Pride and Washington Spirit execute high-octane attacks on early-season NWSL success

After a weekend that saw 27 goals scored in seven games, it’s clear that a handful of NWSL teams are embracing an attacking identity – and excelling at it.

An attack-first mentality keeps the Kansas City Current atop the NWSL standings after their 5-2 win over Bay FC, making them one of three teams to score four or more goals this weekend. The other two were the Portland Thorns and Racing Louisville, who recorded the final winless runs of the season with resounding victories, but also proved this weekend that beating the opposition was not the only way to show strengths.

Take for example the Washington Spirit and Orlando Pride, who scored victories over reigning champion NJ/NY Gotham FC and winners San Diego Wave, respectively, this weekend. The results were quite limited – the Spirit won 2-0 in a competitive match, while the Pride recorded a 1-0 victory – but the performances showed a remarkable attempt to improve on last year’s unmemorable seasons, becoming the latest example of the NWSL’s continued competitiveness.

Here are some takeaways from last weekend’s results in the NWSL.

Spirit’s strong start

The Spirit entered 2024 with ambitious plans, the centerpiece of which is the recruitment of Barcelona’s Jonatan Giraldez, but no timeline for their implementation as he won’t be in the US until the European season ends. It was difficult to know what to expect from the team as they awaited his arrival, but five games into the NWSL season it is clear that they are wasting no time in building a strong foundation for Giraldez to work with when he’s ready.

Look no further than Saturday’s win over Gotham, in which the Spirit earned the lead in a fairly even game. They ultimately outscored the opposition 12 to 11, putting five of their shots on target and generating 2.04 expected goals, a figure assisted by Ashley Sanchez’s penalty in the 69th minute. Talented individuals such as newcomer Croix Bethune, who scored the game’s opening goal, and Trinity Rodman, who recorded five shots, stood out and exemplified the Spirit’s offensive prowess. They rank second in the league in expected goals and third in shots on target percentage, while Rodman ranks in the top 10 in the NWSL in shots, shots on goal, chances and expected goals.

They also seem to lay the foundation for Giraldez’s preferred playing style, which focuses on ball possession and passing. He ranks fourth in the league in passing accuracy in the attacking third at 75.8%. The Spirit are in the middle of the pack in most other possession and passing metrics in 2024, indicating there’s work to be done once Giraldez emerges, but it’s still a huge improvement from 2023, when they were last or penultimate in most of these categories. The ceiling of this Spirit team remains to be seen, but the offense is clearly their strong point for now – and it could be worth building the team around once Giraldez shows up.

Pride’s identity reveals itself

This is a big year for the Pride and head coach Seb Hines, who led the team to a mid-table finish in his first full season in charge but is expected to build a worthwhile team in 2024. It’s still early, but Friday’s 1-0 win over the Wave feels like the first big example of the team Hines wants to build.

The Pride may have been outmanned, but they were an offensive force on Friday, taking 20 shots, putting eight on frame and scoring a 3.25 expected goals. That attacking display comes despite them taking an early lead thanks to Summer Yates’ goal in the 26th minute, restricting the Wave to just four shots and building on their performance from earlier in the season. Ranked third in shots, fourth in chances and first in expected goals, the Pride are building a promising skill set through their passing ability, ranking second in passing accuracy in the NWSL.

It makes the Pride an exciting watch, and that’s before Barbra Banda earns her first start for the team. She can also perhaps help with the team’s most glaring area of ​​improvement yet: efficiency in front of goal. The Pride like to make shots, but still rank 10th out of 14th in shots on target percentage. A little more accuracy could go a long way, and Hines’ squad could become one of the teams to watch this season.

Don’t miss Attacking Third, home of the CBS Sports Golazo Network for all things women’s soccer.

Bad news for Gotham, Wave

The other side of the offensive coin means that while some teams have succeeded in that category, others have not yet gotten their offensive efforts going. That’s especially true for the teams that the Spirit and the Pride defeated this weekend: Gotham and the Wave.

The teams that won the biggest trophies last season are currently among the bottom two teams in the NWSL in goals scored, shots on target and expected goals, and are in the bottom five in shots scored. These stats are in stark contrast to last season’s numbers: Gotham ranked third in shots, chances and expected goals in 2023, while the Wave ranked third in shots on goal and first in shots on goal percentage. Despite the similarities, the drop in attacking form raises different questions about each team.

For Gotham, their offensive prowess came with being ranked third in the NWSL for goals in the 2023 regular season. It was clear that the team focused on improving in that category this offseason, especially with players like Rose Lavelle and Crystal Dunn, but it is clear that Juan Carlos Amoros has not yet found a winning attacking balance. Injuries to Lavelle and Midge Purce could hinder Gotham’s return early in the season, but the fact that they haven’t scored more than two goals in four games this season is disappointing for a team that actually attempted to innovation has been undertaken.

That’s where the similarities return when it comes to the Wave, who were quite effective on offense in 2023 but still signed players to upgrade their offense in Savannah McCaskill and new recruit Maria Sanchez. Although Gotham put up at least eleven shots against the Spirit, the fact that the Wave only made four against the Pride clearly indicates a subpar performance. Casey Stoney will also point out injuries: Alex Morgan got away with a niggle on Friday, while Jaedyn Shaw has dealt with a minor injury on and off throughout the month. However, both Gotham and the Wave are teams with depth and will need to quickly find a way to reverse course if they want to improve on last season’s performance.