Portland Thorns and Racing Louisville are NWSL’s last two winless teams, but for entirely different reasons


We shouldn’t rush to judgment just four games into a season, especially in the NWSL after a handful of coaching changes means several teams are essentially starting 2024 from scratch. Most of the league’s 14 teams are showing glimpses of their refreshed identities for the new season, resting easy in the fact that they can still build towards an encouraging finish. There are some, though, that might already feel the need to correct course after a less-than-ideal start to 2024.

Look no further than the Portland Thorns and Racing Louisville, who are the NWSL’s last two winless teams after about a month of play. That worrying statistic is where the similarities end, since the Thorns and Louisville arrived here under different circumstances, but even a win cannot necessarily paper over the cracks. Just ask the Houston Dash, who have four points but may need to restart their rebuild after forward Maria Sanchez reportedly requested a trade just months after becoming one of the NWSL’s highest-paid players.

The trouble for these teams raises questions about the direction each is heading in, though some might be in better shape than others. That said, the fact that their weaknesses are so noticeably on display introduces a level of urgency usually reserved for the later stages of the season.

Here are some reflections on the weekend that was in the NWSL.

Thorns undone by defensive woes

With the caveat that it is still early days, there are few sights more surprising in the NWSL than to see its most accomplished team sitting at the bottom of the table. The Thorns have just one point from their four games so far, a 2-2 result with Louisville last month, and in every sense are a far cry from the team that consistently dominated the league for its entire history.

The Thorns are one of a handful of teams yet to keep a clean sheet in 2024 and are tied with the Dash for most goals conceded so far this season with 10. The porous defense is a continuation of their 2023 regular season, when only two teams — the 11th place Kansas City Current and the 12th place Chicago Red Stars — let in more goals than the Thorns, who conceded 32 times.

The enduring problem comes despite the Thorns’ attempts to freshen up their back line, too. While Becky Sauerbrunn remains the first choice at center back, most of their starters are in their early 20s and are fairly new to the club. Sauerbrunn started alongside Denmark international Isabella Bryld Obaze at center back in their 2-0 loss to the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, while Reyna Reyes and Marie Muller are new additions in the wide positions. None of it has clicked yet, and their usual get-out-of-jail-free goalscoring card has not worked, either. The Thorns went goalless in two of their four games despite leading the league in shots, suggesting there’s much to correct if they are to build a good run of form this season.

Only draws for Louisville

Like the Thorns, Louisville are winless and have also gone without scoring in two of their four games so far. The funny thing about Louisville, though, is that they are also one of three teams that have gone on an unbeaten run to start the season, drawing each and every game they have played so far.

Louisville are exactly what a team that only has ties would look like, statistically speaking. They rank solidly midtable when sorting the 14 NWSL teams in different statistical categories from possession to attempted passes and even expected goals. There are hints that Louisville want to be an attack-minded team under Bev Yanez, though — they rank third in the league for shots with 22, just four behind the Thorns, and first in the league for shots on target percentage at 45.8%. They also boast the current golden boot leader in Uchenna Kanu, who has three goals so far this season.

There are encouraging signs at Louisville but building a new identity under Yanez, who is in her first head coaching role, might be a little bit of a slow build. The fact that they possess some attacking prowess and have yet to give the impression that they can live up to it means there’s work to do.

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Houston, they have a problem

There’s bad news to go around in the NWSL, but no team arguably came out of the weekend in worse shape than the Dash. A few short months after setting the league’s salary record, which has since been smashed, ESPN reports that Maria Sanchez already wants out and hopes to exit before the trade deadline closes on Friday.

At the time Sanchez’s new deal was announced, her $1.5 million deal felt like a sign of ambition from the Dash under relatively new ownership and after a decade of constantly falling below the playoff line. It’s unclear what inspired the player’s request and if it had anything to do with club leadership or new head coach Fran Alonso, but her departure will likely put a damper on the Dash’s 2024 plans.

This team is also off to an unspectacular start, picking up their only win in a 3-2 result over Bay FC last month but scoring just five goals while conceding 10 in four games. It does not help that Alonso’s tactical vision feels foggy at this point in the season, but subtracting the attack’s focal point will not make matters better. The Dash might be in a lose-lose situation here, too — Sanchez will be a boost to several NWSL teams, salary cap permitting, but even if she sticks around, convincing her to buy back into the team’s mission could be its own uphill battle.



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