NWSL Semifinals Preview
The NWSL playoffs started with a bang on Sunday, October 16, and will continue to wow fans in the upcoming semi-final round that begins on Sunday, October 23. Portland claimed the second spot in rankings and will now face the third-ranked San Diego Wave who beat the Chicago Red Stars to keep their record-breaking inaugural season afloat. Game two of the semi-finals will take place in Seattle where number one OL Reign will take on fifth-place Kansas City Current, after a thrilling quarter-final game against the Houston Dash, who had made the playoffs for the first time in team history.
The Portland versus San Diego game is sure to be a thriller with Golden Boot winner Alex Morgan facing off against the Golden Boot runner-up, Sophia Smith.
Smith finished the season with 76 shots, 49 of those being on goal. Portland currently has 49 goals this season while San Diego has 34, five of them being from penalty kicks taken by Alex Morgan. San Diego went down a goal early in the game due to a mishap from goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan but the team was able to equalize in the 67’ sending the game to overtime.
That was when Alex Morgan scored her 16th goal of the season in the 110’ securing San Diego’s semi-final spot. Alex Morgan along with Taylor Kornieck were placed on the questionable list before the game but both played well over 90’ in the quarterfinal game raising suspicions that head coach, Casey Stoney, placed them there to throw off the opposing team.
OL Reign are coming in hot after winning the NWSL Shield due to a 3-3 draw between Portland, who was in first at the time, and Gotham FC, who were in last place. OL Reign has been hot all season with Goalkeeper of the Year nominee, Phallon Tullis-Joyce, who has 65 saves this season and only 19 goals against in 22 games.
A keeper can’t be successful without a solid back line and OL Reign have two of the best defenders in the league, Alana Cook and Sofia Huerta who are both nominated for Defender of the Year. The nominations don't stop at Defender of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year for OL Reign; head coach Laura Harvey is also up for the Coach of the Year award after leading her team to plentiful success during the season. The Reign will have to push hard to score against the number two-ranked keeper in the league, Adrianna Franch, who has 70 saves on the season and is also nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year. Kansas City Current started their playoff hopes in Houston with a tough match on the road. They quickly won a penalty kick in the 5’ which Lo'eau LaBonta easily slotted away as she has several other times this season. Kansas City is the team that has been awarded the most penalty kicks over the course of the season so it wasn’t a shock to see them win one here too.
Houston shot back to tie the game in the 21’ but were stunned by Kansas City’s extra-time goal thanks to Kate Del Fava. This was Del Fava’s very first NWSL goal. OL Reign and Kansas City have only faced off six times since Kansas City joined the league, only two of those being this season. The first time these teams faced off OL Reign took home the win first in a 1-0 game, the second time they faced off Kansas City got an early game penalty kick and stumped OL Reign.
All bias aside here are my NWSL 2022 Semi-Final predictions:
OL Reign vs. Kansas City-
Kansas City is going to start the game off with a questionable penalty that leaves fans upset but as LaBonta steps up to take it she’ll think about all the other ones she’s taken and psych herself out. Phallon Tullis-Joyce will make the save and keep Kansas City from scoring again in the night. Bethany Balcer and Sofia Huerta will have their magical connection to slot a goal past AD Franch and kick off the goal-scoring for OL Reign. A second-half goal from OL Reign will put them ahead and into championship position.
Score prediction: OL Reign 2-1 Kansas City
Portland Thorns vs San Diego Wave-
Portland knows semi-final games better than anyone, they know the keys to securing a win but San Diego is running off an inaugural season high and have something to prove. The scoring will start off with a classic Sophia Smith in the first half but the goal will be quickly matched with a goal for San Diego by Alex Morgan. Morgan and Smith will go head to head all game, each getting a brace, but Jaedyn Shaw will be the one to put San Diego on top with a late-game thriller.
Score prediction: Portland Thorns 2-3 San Diego