Unbeaten streaks and league-leading goalscorers: Why Current vs. Pride is the match of the season


League-leading goalscorers Barbra Banda of the Orlando Pride and Temwa Chawinga of the Kansas City Current have been going toe to toe in the NWSL ever since Banda’s arrival in May. On Saturday, they will finally face off against each other for their respective undefeated clubs.

The forwards are tied with 11 goals a piece and have already equaled 2023 Golden Boot winner Sophia Smith’s tally last year. With the season just over halfway gone, Banda and Chawinga are approaching the record for most goals scored in a season — set in 2019 by Sam Kerr at 18.

Their teams are also on the precipice of a record of their own. The Current and Pride both enter the weekend matchup with 15 games unbeaten this season. The current single-season record is 16, set by the 2014 Seattle Reign, a team that seemed in every aspect destined for a championship until they were rebuffed by none other than Vlatko Andonovski’s FC Kansas City.

Andonovski is back in KC with a vengeance. His high-flying yet methodical Current loves to pour shots on goal, which they should continue apace with Chawinga’s ability to wiggle into space and deliver a final ball. Meanwhile, the Pride has evolved from mid-table to a championship contender with the addition of Banda, another seemingly unstoppable force. So what happens when you pit two unstoppable forces against each other?


By the numbers: NWSL Golden Boot leaders

Banda has scored 11 goals on 8.8 xG (expected goals), mostly right in front of the net — although like Chawinga, she’ll take a shot from just about anywhere in the box. Banda also edges Chawinga in versatility, shooting more with her non-dominant foot. However, Chawinga more than makes up for that with the sheer volume of shots she pumps out.

barbra banda 2024 all shots

Chawinga also gets a bit more help than Banda with Debinha, Bia, and Vanessa DiBernardo in the mix behind her. But with Banda such a hot target for defenses to focus on, it also gives Marta more room and space to be Marta, with her chance creation leading the team so far.

temwa chawinga 2024 all shots

These are not just teams hammering on one option for lack of others; Orlando has plenty of goals spread amongst Marta, Adriana, and Summer Yates, who continues to develop as part of Orlando’s plan in her second year with the team. Combine that with the stingiest defense in the league, allowing 11 goals in 15 games, and that’s the foundational score-more-than-you-let-in math for playoffs writ large.

“That’s a good team. That’s not a one-player team,” Andonovski acknowledged in the Current’s pre-match press conference. Andonovski cited Banda and Marta, but also pointed out that goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse, who recently received her first call up to the England senior national team, has also been having the best season of her career.

KCORLCOMPARE

But KC has plenty of solutions as well; Bia, DiBernardo and Lo’eau LaBonta have combined for 14 goals to add to their overall haul.

“Sometimes it seems like we create chances for fun,” Andonovski said.

While the Current is a little more prone to allowing goals, it is just as tough on defense. And they love to put enormous pressure on other teams.

“How we transition is going to be really important to our success in the game,” said Pride head coach Seb Hines. “(KC is) a very direct team. They like to get the ball from back to front. So the first phase is going to be important, making sure that we get first contact with those aerial balls, and then again, the second balls and when the ball lands is really important because they like to transition.”

Large parts of this game could end up as transition versus transition, which Andonovski acknowledged.

“A lot of times when teams are in the same place or similar places in the standings, they’re very similar in how they play, whether it’s at the top or the bottom,” he said.

With Banda and Chawinga both in fine form, it’s not a surprise that both teams would want to execute on transitions that quickly put their best players in front of goal. If anyone comes off of the field with legs left to spare, it’ll be a surprise.


What does this mean for NWSL?

The success of both teams isn’t an accident; not for Kansas City, who were near the bottom of the league table last season or for the Pride who looked pretty average in its seventh-place finish. The teams invested in the offseason and scouted bonafide global talent, and in Orlando’s case in particular, had some continuity in staff who took the time to build on what worked from last season.

Both of these teams are great data points for the NWSL’s oft-repeated boast that it is the most competitive league in the world.

Last one year, first the next. Tweak something here, make the right call there, and you’re in the playoff hunt. Marta, who has spent her entire career in Orlando and has seen the team go from the bottom of the table to playoffs and back, shared theit excitement about being the No. 2 team headed to face the No. 1 team in her last game before the Olympics.

“I think it’s time to enjoy,” she said. “There was some seasons there we did okay, some we don’t. So now we live a good moment here with the team.”

Both teams are also important data points for the future of talent scouting and analysis in the league.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has long been overlooked as a source of incredible international talent, tending to land in soccer news over mistreatment by member federations, such as Nigerian players alleging they weren’t paid or allegations of abuse by Zambia head coach Bruce Mwape. It’s been harder for athletes from these federations to gain international visibility outside of major tournaments — Banda’s Tokyo Olympics, though, landed her on plenty of radars. Combined with relatively paltry scouting departments from NWSL clubs that are just starting to staff and equip those roles, an influx of CAF players into NWSL has been a minute in coming.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

How NWSL teams are taking advantage of growing data analytics departments

“The athletes that are in Africa, that are coming out of Africa are unbelievable athletes with serious potential and massively high ceilings,” Pride general manager Haley Carter told The Athletic earlier this year in a discussion about analytics. “The statistics are just not available. So I think we just have to be cognizant of relying too much on established data and analytics to make decisions.”

Watching both Banda and Chawinga blow the roof off of nearly every stadium they play in while quickly gaining NWSL fans has been more than entertaining, and getting to see them on two good teams going head-to-head is great for the league overall.

(Top photos: USA Today)





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