NWSL Snap: Chawinga zooms in West Manhattan

Waxing lyrical about Temwa Chawinga's opening salvo at Red Bull arena, anniversary chaos in Houston & trouble in the Rose City.

NWSL Snap: Chawinga zooms in West Manhattan
Teammates Bia Zaneratto and Temwa Chawinga celebrate their opening zippy goal || Courtesy of KC Current

Note: Welcome to 'NWSL Snap' – A weekly Monday morning brief whip-around of the weekend's action, talking points & nonsense from the U.S. league. Expect quick updates, curious notes, and some standout statistics. It is included in the FREE Squad Depth subscription.

NWSL Matchday Four Results:
Houston 1-3 Wash. Spirit || Utah 0-1 Orlando
NCC 2-0 Portland || Louisville 0-0 San Diego || Chicago 0-1 ACFC
Gotham 1-1 KCC || Bay 3-2 Seattle

Watch NWSL highlights here

The Snapshot

It should have been, could have been, more. When West Manhattan Gotham FC released their extremely narrow starting XI, I was worried. It felt like the day was primed for a big attacking performance from the Kansas City Current's Temwa Chawinga.

There was centreback Tierna Davidson, fresh from a tiring week with the national team, being played out of position at left-back, with a direct matchup against the exhilarating Malawian forward.

In the middle of the Gotham backline, Spaniard Matiane Lopez and Sam Hiatt were not known for their pace either. Furthermore, Juan Carlos Amoros' defenses are prone to playing with a very high line, and gambling on leaving space behind them. In isolation, this could get ugly for the home team if the Current could get Chawinga in the right positions.

And early on, they did. The blonde-topped forward gave Davidson an early nightmare in a one-on-one situation and left the forward on the floor as she kept the ball from going out of play on the byline.

Moments later, the opening goal should have come when Chawinga snuck in behind Lopez on a through ball. A great read of her KC teammate's pass created the separation and the shot from five yards out was low and decent. But Gotham keeper Cassie Miller pulled off a tremendous save with her feet, as the Spanish defender could only throw out an attempted pull on the red shirt of her off-to-the-races opponent.

Eventually, the breakthrough came in the 17th minute. A run heard around the world, or at the very least on your Twitter timeline. As journalist Jason Anderson joked, Chawinga made a good effort to break the local speed limit (20 mph) on the road outside Red Bull Arena.

Below is a screenshot of where Bia Zaneratto wins the turnover to ignite the attack. Chawinga starts her counterattacking run on her 36-yard line, at that moment there are seven Gotham players in front of her (including the goalkeeper). Technically eight, if you include Esther Gonzalez who is tumbling to the floor following Zaneratto's tackle.

Chawinga outpaces them all. In length, her run came in at 72 yards and was traversed in about seven seconds or less. So that's an approximate speed of 20.8 mph or more. There are eight seconds or less between the tackle and the Malawian putting the ball in the back of the net. Blink and you'll miss it.

And, let us talk about the finish. Speed is only one part of her game. Chawinga is switched on and smart when zooming. She's aware of what she needs to do to finish the chance. Most importantly, she clocks Miller coming off her line, stretching her arms wide, and beginning to crouch. Cooly the Current forward makes the right shot selection and dinks it over the downward movement of her opponent. Top marks.

Here's the thing, though. As much as we need to praise Chawinga for a stunning opening passage in West Manhattan, Gotham deserves credit for keeping the forward quiet after her stunning goal.

Chawinga didn't have another attempt on goal after putting KC up 1-0. She racked up 0.87 xG (the most of any player) in those opening 17 minutes, then was relatively iced out. To give that backline even more credit, the Current forward didn't complete a single dribble in the final 73 minutes of the match either.

What Gotham does well is they move as a unit. Many players move as one, covering each other. Even though this was a risky setup, with key defensive player Jenna Nighswonger missing, "The Bats" pulled back into shape often to limit what KC could do.

After being punished, the Current struggled to create many counter-attacking or counter-pressing chances. Gotham responded with a big old header from Esther in the second half and this one finishing 1-1 felt about right. Maybe that could also be chalked up to KC not keeping their foot on the pedal too.


Alright, I had to get some poems about Chawinga and the Gotham response off but there was an unrelenting buffet of chaotic action around the NWSL.

Houston has had a wild few days. Flashback to Friday, and the club celebrated 10 years with a Jekyll & Hyde showing against the Washington Spirit. The first 15-20 minutes of the match were about the best we've seen from the Dash, in terms of them progressing the ball across the pitch starting in their own box.

Having missed the first three weeks of the season, Natalie Jacobs (an actual defender), came into the Houston back three and scored a really nicely taken goal from a short corner kick routine. But she was sadly removed for a concussion and quickly it all unraveled.

You can file Hal Hershfelt's equalizer for the Spirit under: When playing it out from the back goes wrong. Then Trinity Rodman had a field day pressing the tired-looking Dash defenders and attacking the space between the wing-backs and centrebacks. She was only denied a goal by the continuing brilliance of Jane Campbell in goal.

3-1 was a more than fair scoreline to the away side and has provoked more questions about what exactly is going on in Houston? If the team looks this naive and chaotic from the outside, how nervy must the players be feeling on the inside? How long can you "trust the process"?

But all those performance issues with the Dash have faded into the background following ESPN's Jeff Kassouf's reporting that Maria Sanchez has officially requested a transfer out of Houston by Friday's transfer window deadline.

Two weeks ago, sources told me that Sanchez had taken a meeting with head coach Fran Alonso and general manager Alex Singer to air her frustrations with the club and intended to hand in a transfer request. Kassouf has confirmed that the latter has been activated while he also obtained this comment from the Texas club: "Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023."

How long does Mike Norris have?

Four matches without a win might not provoke a head coaching switch in Portland just yet, but Thorns head coach Mike Norris must be starting to feel the heat.

Any club with new owners is prone to making big changes. With general manager Karina LeBlanc sealing a contract extension for Sophia Smith last week, it would seem like her role is much safer than his.

Portland's defensive issues are not new. But they're becoming alarming. This is a team that conceded 32 goals in 22 matches last season (10th), but could count themselves somewhat unlucky by having the 3rd-best xGoals Against (26.4). Per 90 that's a discrepancy of 0.25.

Curiously, this weekend, for the first time this season, Norris switched the sides of full backs Reyna Reyes (usually right) and Marie Muller (usually left). The move didn't work, but shows there's some tinkering going on. The promising German, Muller, along with high-potential Danish centreback Isabella Obaze, are playing in the NWSL for the first time in their careers with the Thorns, and do need time.

In 2024, the Thorns are dead last for goals conceded with 10, but their xGA is in the middle of the pack at eight with 4.7. Per 90 that discrepancy has ballooned to 1.3. Which points to this start to the season being an outlier. But still, this is a team that is going to need to score two or three goals a game to pick up wins.

But the chances the Thorns' backline are conceding is only part of the issue. After four weeks, goalkeeper Shelby Hogan ranks last for goals prevented with -3.6. If that's close to zero then maybe Portland is much closer to their xGA and have more points on the board.

This Saturday, Norris and the Thorns will welcome Alonso and the Dash to Providence Park. Is it too early in the season to suggest this could be a loser gets sacked match?

Quote(s) of the week

"The last thing she [Naomi Girma] told me before I went out there was to just be myself and that I was super prepared and that I was going to rock it. Super encouraging. I think being able to train with her and play next to her is nothing but helpful. Obviously, I tried to mimic so many things she does with her composure on the ball and how solid she is defensively."
Kennedy Wesley

When making your NWSL and professional debut, it's nice to have a mentor as talented and wise as Naomi Girma. Not only are the duo both now playing for the San Diego Wave, but they were formerly at Stanford University together.

Wesley's first appearance was about as good as I've seen in this league in terms of defensive equanimity. And flowers have to go to not only the player but also to head coach Casey Stoney for consummately preparing her to step in for the injured Girma.

The English head coach said that she gave Wesley plenty of warning that she would be starting when the news of Girma's thigh injury was confirmed.

"I think it's important to give players – when they're going to make their debut – a little bit of time to kind of get their head around it. We did some defensive work on defending crosses, a little bit on footwork pattern, in the week. But we believe in her. And that's why we drafted her. That's why we put her in," said Stoney.

Kennedy Wesley making a cool-as-you-like professional debut this weekend | San Diego Wave

NWSL Feels XI – Matchday Four

Sort of like a team of the week – mostly gut feels, and who brought the vibes