NWSL Snap: Into the FIFA window with no superlatives left

What is there left to say about the MVP frontrunners from Orlando and D.C.?

NWSL Snap: Into the FIFA window with no superlatives left
Croix Bethune, Tarciane and Jane Campbell, Barbra Banda (left to right) || Courtesy of NWSL clubs

NWSL Matchday 10 Results:

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

Watch NWSL highlights here

Table (via FotMob):

The Snapshot

Words. Love 'em, hate 'em, we need them. To explain ourselves. To elucidate. To flourish.

And yet, when it comes to finding the right ones to describe Barbra Banda and Croix Bethune – at this moment in time – I'm nearly all out. Shot. Run dry. Empty.

You see, the NWSL's current joint top goalscorer and top goal-creator are performing at such an astounding level it's tricky task to even locate new superlatives.

What I keep coming back to, though, is decision-making, vision, and speed of thought.

For now, Banda and Bethune's minds are moving faster, and in more creative ways, than the other players in the NWSL.

That's how they cut out their spaces, persist when the moment looks to almost disappear, and (crucially) make goals happen.

With Banda, at times it looks like no is marking her. Especially on corners. That's how wise she is to know when to drop off and when to spark. Aerially speaking, it's been a long time since I saw anyone with the level of precision that she has. Four of eight goals have come in the air.

Bethune plays with less obvious intensity than the Zambian. She skips and glides, scans and probes. It is as if NWSL pitches were her own back garden, and she a passionate gardener. Calmly pruning flowers and nurturing plants, rather than evading world-class athletes who are out to stop you.

For an NWSL rookie, the Washington Spirit trequartista's ability to pick out a perfect pass and swat the ball into the net is marvelous. Again, not only because the technical quality is high, but there is an ease and consistency about it that is frightfully impressive.

It's worth remembering that there was always belief in these players. Banda was already renowned across the globe as a lethal finisher and commanded a $740,000 transfer fee. Bethune has been consistently scouted and involved in the USA youth national teams, she thrived at top American universities and was the third overall pick in the draft.

But unlike some other arrivals into the NWSL, Banda and Bethune's performance levels elsewhere have carried into the league seamlessly.

To come straight in, waste no time, break records, and establish the kind of instant form they have was not necessarily an expectation. The ceilings on these players were as high as anyone, but the immediacy and volume is truly unprecedented.

Banda, who is averaging a goal every 64 minutes, is now 10 goals away from equaling Sam Kerr's record of 18 goals in a single NWSL season, which she set in 2019 across 21 matches at a clip of one goal every 103 minutes. The Orlando Pride forward's xG per 90 minutes of 0.99 is ludicrous.

Bethune needs just two more assists over the next 15 matches to match Tobin Heath's record of 10 assists in a season, set in 2016. Per Fbref, the 23-year-old is also currently leading the NWSL in passes into the penalty area (18), goal-creating actions (15), and shot-creating actions (49). This is involvement off the charts.

Over the first three months of the season, no two players have been as sensational as this duo. They are a joyously daring, a delight. A reminder of how excellence is as much about great thought as masterful skill. Come alive, see things that other players don't. Act on them in a nanosecond.

Banda and Bethune connect all those hours of personal practice and palpably insert it into the chaotic jazz of the NWSL. Their job is to keep making our jaw drop, our task is to keep finding the words.

Random stat to know: 356 days

The Houston Dash's woeful 356-day wait for a regular season home win in the NWSL is finally over.

Yes, that's right. The Texas club's home fans waited nearly an entire year (!) to see their team pick up three points in the league at the Eado soccer stadium. Before Friday night's emphatic triumph over North Carolina, the previous home win came in a 2-0 over Orlando Pride on the 3rd of June 2023.

The players applaud the home support after the long wait for a victory in Texas was ended | Courtesy of the Houston Dash

I've said it before, and I'll say it again, football isn't about winning. It's about moments, community, and stories. But that being said, trudging to the ground week after week and failing to win takes it toll. Failing to win at home for nearly a year is bitterly disappointing in a league with a salary cap.

The Houston fanbase (and the players) desperately needed this win. To lift the club's spirits and get end that wretched streak. It was a thrill to be in the stadium to witness the vibes and celebrations. Zesty.

Quote of the week

"After last week, there were a lot of questions about the goal that I scored, so I definitely didn't want to leave any doubt today. I saw a window of opportunity and I took it."
-- Emma Sears, Racing Louisville

For the record, I loved Sears' goal from last week. The shot-come-cross can be a work of art. Many wingers know that sending the ball to the back post with zip is about creating as much danger as possible. The position she struck the ball from meant that KC keeper AD Franch wasn't set to make a save.

The zoomy dribbler has been a sensation, and just last week inked a three-year contract extension despite only signing her previous deal in March.

She has overtaken defenders freely and is showing serious pace on the wing. When it comes to carrying the ball forward, the former Ohio State Buckeye has entered the NWSL with the energy of: "What, like it's hard?" Per Wyscout, only Banda (127 meters) has carried the ball further on the pitch than Sears (124 meters).

Of course, her final ball hasn't quite kept up with her ability to dribble. The 23-year-old has attempted the second most crosses (40) of any player in the league but has yet to register an assist.

So, whilst Sears' threat level has remained very high, that end product has been missing. However, the Louisville winger now has two goals in two weeks, three on the season. They've all been bangers. But Sunday's match-winning strike was the most pin-point and pure yet. A superb angle. An intentional geometric smash. She meant it.

Per Opta, Sears' two goals have a combined xG of 0.05. Take that, data.

NWSL Feels XI – Matchday Nine

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