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  • Writer's pictureKinsey Manchester

NWSL Playoff Picture

Now that Week 20 of regular season gameplay is complete, the NWSL playoff picture is starting to come into focus. This weekend saw one team secure their spot and one team get eliminated, while everyone else is still mathematically in the hunt. With just two weeks left of matches, the chaos will culminate on NWSL's very own "Decision Day," when every team plays a game at the same time, and where every match will count. Let's jump into which teams we expect to see in the postseason and how they can get there.


Portland Thorns fans cheer on their team in Providence Park. Photo by Kallie Hansel-Tennes for WSX.

Week 20 Results

This weekend's games were full of red cards, goal-line saves, bangers, and hard-fought matches. On Saturday, Trinity Rodman scored a game-winning stoppage time goal for the Washington Spirit over the visiting Kansas City Current. After going down 1-0 early in the game, the Spirit fought hard to come out on top, 2-1. Chicago also put up a tough fight to maintain their 1-0 lead over Racing Louisville in what was an impressive victory. Casey Krueger made a goal-line save in second-half stoppage time, Tierna Davidson got taken off the field after getting kicked in the face while making a defensive play, and the Red Stars kept a clean sheet on 22 shots and 21 corners by Racing.


Alex Morgan and Kyra Carusa were San Diego's scorers in a 2-0 victory over the Portland Thorns in Providence Park. The visiting Wave silenced the home crowd with a resounding win that secured their second playoff spot in their second-year history.


San Diego Wave players celebrate a goal in their 2-0 win over Portland to secure playoff berth. Photo credit to the San Diego Wave.

Houston also recorded a 2-0 win over NJ/NY Gotham on the road behind a brace from striker Michelle Alozie. After Gotham failed to convert a penalty kick in the second half, the Dash secured a victory, shutting out Gotham from clinching a playoff spot.


On Sunday, OL Reign battled hard with the visiting North Carolina Courage to eke out a draw after getting down to 10 players in the waning minutes of the first half. With Alana Cook committing a strategic foul to take down a dangerous Kerolin, she was awarded a straight red card and was sent out of the match. Despite being down a player, no goals were scored in the second half and the two teams split the points with a 1-1 final. In Monday's game, Angel City hosted the Orlando Pride. Orlando went up in the first half on a rocket of a shot from striker Adriana in what would be the game-winner. Orlando's 1-0 road victory handed Becki Tweed her first loss since she took over as Interim Head Coach, and it mathematically eliminated Kansas City from playoff contention.


Week 21 Scenarios

This weekend's games will influence the final standings of the table. Week 21 kicked off with two Friday games- Racing Louisville at the Orlando Pride, and the Washington Spirit traveling to OL Reign. After these two games, all teams still remain in contention and nobody else has clinched a playoff spot.


Racing Louisville fought hard to beat the Pride 3-2 on the road, after going down 2-0 in the first half of the game. Racing needed a win to avoid being eliminated from the postseason, while Orlando would've clinched a spot with a victory and an OL Reign draw.


As it turns out, the Reign and the Spirit did draw, 0-0, in a game where neither team could sustain a coordinated attack. The Reign set an attendance record: 34,130 fans showed up to celebrate Megan Rapinoe's last regular season home game. However the Reign couldn't pull off a victory and both teams remain above the playoff line, but neither has clinched their spot.


In the rest of Week 21 play, the Portland Thorns and Gotham face up. Portland can secure a playoff spot with a win or a draw, while Gotham needs a win for a sure spot. If Gotham does tie Portland at Providence Park, they will rely on other results to punch their ticket to the postseason, but a more direct path is available with a victory.


North Carolina Courage and Gotham FC both have the opporunity to secure playoff berth this weekend. Photo by Nala Burton for WSX.

San Diego travels to take on the NC Courage, and while the Wave have already clinched a spot, the Courage can secure a spot as well. For the Courage, they will need to beat the Wave and hope that Angel City get points against the Houston Dash. An Angel City win or draw combined with a Courage victory would put them through to the postseason.


In Saturday's late night game, Chicago travels to Kansas City to take on the Current. If the Red Stars cannot win against the Current, they will join the Current in being eliminated from the playoffs.

Finally, Sunday's game in Houston will see Angel City take on the Dash. Neither team can secure a spot in the postseason, but they're both fighting to stay in contention. For the visitors, a loss will immediately eliminate them, while a scenario still exists that they could be eliminated with a draw as well. An Angel City draw + a Chicago win + a Reign draw + a North Carolina win/draw would eliminate the LA side. Houston will stave off elimination with a win or a draw in this week of gameplay.


Decision Day

Next week's games are extremely important to the playoff picture, but fans of the NWSL mayhem will need to buckle up for the final week of play. On October 15th, all the teams will play at exactly 5:00 EST, and every game will impact which six teams make the playoffs. All of the games will be streamed live to Paramount+, so get your screens and popcorn ready.


The North Carolina Courage will travel to D.C. to take on the Washington Spirit. Both teams currently sit above the playoff line but will need to take home points if they want to keep their position. Gotham will host the now-eliminated Kansas City Current but will need to make a splash in their game after this week's loss to Houston in order to stay above the playoff line.


Two teams who are sitting below the playoff line, Orlando and Houston, will battle each other in their final match of the season. OL Reign, who currently holds a playoff spot, will look to pick up points on the road against the Chicago Red Stars, who are currently on a 4-game unbeaten streak.


Angel City will play host to the Portland Thorns in hopes that their home-field advantage will help them get the points needed to make the playoffs. The San Diego Wave, who have already guaranteed a spot in the postseason, will face a tough test as they host a hungry Racing Louisville team.


Playoff Predictions

While San Diego has punched their ticket to the postseason and Kansas City has been eliminated, every other team still has a chance to make the playoffs. Going into this past weekend of gameplay, there were reportedly 729 playoff scenarios. With teams trying to make the final push to make it into the postseason, there could be a lot of movement on the table.


Besides San Diego, both Portland and Gotham look poised to hold onto their playoff berths. Although the Thorns host Gotham next week in what will be a tight match, with 32 and 30 points on the season respectively, it seems likely that they will hold on to their playoff spots. As long as both of them can have solid performances in their last two matches, they should be getting through to the postseason.


North Carolina, who currently sits in fourth, has not won a regular season game since July 1st. They will face league-leading San Diego next week, followed by a spunky Washington Spirit squad. If they can control possession in those games as they've done at their most successful, they can secure their spot on the table.


The Washington Spirit, who are tied with the Courage in points but behind in goal differential, will have to beat OL Reign at home before hosting North Carolina's relentless attack. The Spirit's win this weekend was their first since mid-June, and unless they can spoil Megan Rapinoe's send-off in Seattle, they might fall below the playoff line. OL Reign holds the precarious sixth playoff spot. Tied in points with the seventh team but ahead in goal differential, they will rely on the home advantage this weekend against the Spirit. Playing without Alana Cook and Nikki Stanton will prove a challenge against the Spirit, but the Reign has boasted a deep bench all season. If they can come together to win for Rapinoe, they will hold on to their playoff berth.


Potential contenders to move up the table include the Orlando Pride. Tied with OL Reign in points, Orlando has looked dangerous during the second half of the season, with four wins out of their last six matches. They take on Racing Louisville first and then will play host to a hungry Houston Dash team. With their explosive additions to the attack seeming to peak at the right time, they are poised to creep above the playoff line.


The Houston Dash hosts Angel City and then travels to Orlando. If they can sustain an attack throughout the whole game, they can be playoff contenders. The Dash have conceded the fewest amount of goals in the league, so they just need to click on the other side of the ball if they are to come out of the regular season. Angel City, who sits at eighth, finishes the season against the Dash and the Thorns. While they have a tougher path to the postseason, they have looked like a new team under interim Head Coach Becki Tweed and could be a surprise addition.


The two teams currently in tenth and eleventh, Racing Louisville and the Chicago Red Stars, have a long shot at the playoffs, but should not be counted out yet. Both sit at 24 points on the season. Racing has to face off against Orlando and the Wave in what will nearly be two must-win games. They have yet to score a goal in three regular-season games and will have to really pull it together if they want to make a postseason run. Chicago is a gritty team that has faced many obstacles- the loss of their top scorer and off-pitch drama with their front office, to name a few- and is still fighting. They will play the Current and the Reign in their last two games, and while it is hard to see them making it to the postseason, it's hard not to cheer them on.


No matter which six teams make the playoffs, it is shaping up to be the most exciting final two weeks of a regular season in NWSL history. With the league's first Decision Day, and the playoff race tighter than ever, it is a great time to be a women's soccer fan.

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