NWSL Snap: How long will Orlando and KC keep it up?

The NWSL's top two clubs have made compelling starts to 2024, can they be stopped?

NWSL Snap: How long will Orlando and KC keep it up?
Ella Stevens (left) celebrates her first goal for Gotham, Debinha (centre) plays tribute to Luana, and Adriana rejoices in her first time netting in 2024 | Courtesy of respective clubs

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 Seven/Eight Results:

San Diego 2-0 Utah || Seattle 0-0 KCC || Houston 0-1 Gotham

Orlando 1-0 Bay || Louisville 1-2 Wash Spirit || ACFC 0-1 Houston
San Diego 1-1 Gotham || Chicago 3-1 Utah
KCC 1-0 NCC || Portland 4-0 Seattle

Watch NWSL highlights here

Table (via FotMob):

The Snapshot

We're just about a third of the way through the 26-match NWSL regular season. Give or take a game.

The table is starting to take shape. Albeit immediate results still play a large part in major movements, up and down.

Over the weekend, the bottom seven clubs, excluding the Houston Dash all lost. And the top five clubs all won. Perhaps this indicates a more chasmic league table will emerge than in previous NWSL seasons? Only time will.

For now, two teams remain unbeaten. The two league leaders, Kansas City Current and Orlando Pride. And, there's an early feeling that these squads are ready to go the distance.

It's charming that, after nine matches, both clubs have offered the league something different.

KCC's early success has been built on a hectic pressing game, and big goalscoring bursts from a handful of players. With 22 goals scored, by 12 different players, the Current are the NWSL's top scorers (22) and chances creators (18.9 xG).

Orlando's confident embarkment has been built on a platform of defensive strength. No team has more clean sheets than the Pride (four), while their goals against p90 (of 0.8) is the joint best with Gotham. However, the Floridians xGA p90 (0.67) is slightly superior to the 'The Bats' (0.75).

That stat also clearly shows the impressive defensive numbers are no fluke.

Look, boiling down KC to attack and Orlando to defence doesn't paint the whole picture though. If anything it misses out great performers.

Current centreback Gabby Robinson is one of the early breakout players in the NWSL, along with 18-year-old holding midfielder Claire Hutton. The duo were both vital for their team earning their first two clean sheets of the season this week.

Similarly, Barbra Banda is making an early case for NWSL MVP, and it would be remiss to not acknowledge just how much of an impact she is making in the attack knowing that Orlando has a solid base behind her. Her speed of thought is unmatched.

Mostly what I like about both these teams is they are units. With cohesion. Vibes. Talent across the board, and plenty of players stepping up in a well-drilled fashion.

We'll have to wait until the 6th of July (the final game before the Olympic break) to see these two clubs face off. And that contest will be at the brand new CPKC Stadium, where the Current have begun life a perfect four wins from four.

Orlando's next match is away to Seattle, which, despite their form, is never easy. I could see the Pride being tested on their biggest away trip of the year. Whilst the Current has another home game, against Louisville, before a trip to Utah. I do not see Vlatko's team losing before the international break on the 27th May.

Random stat of the week: Another three-assist game!

I'm losing my mind! When Croix Bethune notched three assists in one match for the Washington Spirit a couple of weeks ago, it was an enthralling watch of the young playmaker in her element. Puppeteer energy.

I thought the feat was rare, only to discover it had happened seven times before in NWSL history (all comps), most recently by Megan Rapinoe last season.

But now Sophia Smith has become a member of the elite assist hat-trick club! Her trio of setups this weekend were made to look so easy. Gliding across the pitch and slipping the ball to willing teammates. Some nice finishes too.

By adding a penalty of her own, in the 4-0 drubbing of Seattle in the Cascadia Derby, Smith also became just the second-ever player (after Sam Kerr) to record four goal contributions in a single NWSL game.

The spot kick conversion was notable because Smith switched things up by opening up her body and slotting the ball flat to the right post, which was well-spotted by journalist Taylor Vincent. Four of her previous five penalties had gone to the bottom left corner, with the only one shot to the right going wide of the post.

Quote(s) of the week

"My wife, I think she yelled at me every day. I think I cried every day. I mean, she did choose to marry me. And I don't think she understood what it meant. In case I got traded, but she can work remote. So we're figuring things out."
-- Paige Nielsen, Houston Dash

As a journalist, there's little better than when a player is comfortable enough to be open up about their experiences and help give insight into the game.

Houston Dash centreback Paige Nielsen opened up about everything following her team's stunning 1-0 win away over Angel City that was dramatically settled by the player scoring against her former club in the 98th minute.

What an incredible narrative that was. Just 25 days after being traded on deadline day, here Nielsen was, returning to the club she loves, the city she called home and in front of the fans who adore her.

It was another NWSL moment to remember. A perfect Hollywood script.

There's still plenty of affection for Nielsen in LA || Courtesy of Houston Dash

The 30-year-old former UNC Tar Heel has shown a lot of maturity, professionalism, and leadership as she navigated the shock switch to Texas just a few weeks ago.

We are only four matches into Nielsen's spell with Houston, but already the Dash's goals-against average without her in the team (3.0 p90) has dropped right down (0.5 p90) since she started playing.

There's no denying Houston had holes in its squad, especially in the middle of the backline, but the instant success Nielsen has found is remarkable. The $100k transfer fee is looking like a steal. Although, the defender will be out of contract at the end of the season.

NWSL Feels XI – Matchday Eight

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