soccer

What’s at stake in the 2022 NWSL playoffs


Published: 10/12/22
nwsl playoffs mallory pugh and alex morgan
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Houston Dash vs. Kansas City Current, Sunday @ 5pm ET on Paramount+

Houston is already halfway to their goal of over 20,000 tickets sold which would give them their highest home total of the season. The Current should be upset they’re not playing in front of their home crowd, and that they’ll have to replace defensive midfielder Desiree Scott, whose two yellows in her last match gave her a red card. Scott is a crucial loss against any opponent, but against a team that can transition from defense to attack as quickly as Houston, it could be even more devastating.

The Dash have long been one of the NWSL’s most confusing teams. 

When they’re flying, they can do things like win the 2020 Challenge Cup. When they’re not, they can miss the playoffs altogether. This season they’ve finally committed to building structures that can make success more predictable. They hired a full-time General Manager, hired a well respected and well-known head coach, and despite losing Rachel Daly, who was the team’s captain and heartbeat for the past few years, they’ve added talent and developed a different identity.

Kansas City has been one of the most ambitious teams in the league. 

The California clubs get a lot of the attention, but Kansas City built and opened the first training facility specific to an NWSL team. They also just broke ground on their new privately funded NWSL-specific stadium. The Current also have found tremendous success on the pitch under new coach Matt Potter, which culminated in a league-best 13-match unbeaten run. Keep in mind that all their on-pitch success was accomplished without their two marquee signings, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams.

Both clubs are entering new eras in their lifespan. 

Though both may be ahead of schedule, one of them will be playing in an NWSL semifinal, which would be tremendous early validation of their ambitions and direction.

San Diego Wave FC vs. Chicago Red Stars, Sunday @ 10pm ET on CBS Sports Network

This matchup is full of fun and contrasts. First, it’s very old school versus new school, as newcomers San Diego Wave FC will host one of the original eight in the NWSL, Chicago Red Stars. However, each club’s star player is the inverse of this clash as newbies San Diego have 33-year-old USWNT-veteran Alex Morgan while the old guard Red Stars rely on 24-year-old Mallory Pugh.

No NWSL expansion team has made the playoffs in their first season. 

San Diego not only made the playoffs, but had a legitimate shot at claiming the NWSL Shield in the final month of the season. Two draws kept them away, but they still had a remarkable third place finish.

Chicago, meanwhile, are going through a lot. 

The release of Sally Yates’ investigation unveiled a lot of horrific details from former manager Rory Dames’ tenure, and also shed light on Red Stars’ majority owner, Arnim Whisler, knowing about the transgressions and repeatedly failing to act. Chicago’s players recently released a statement pointing out Whisler’s dishonesty with them, and backing calls for new ownership. Unfortunately, this is familiar to last season’s Washington Spirit (who beat Dames’ Red Stars in the NWSL Championship game).

This leaves players, some of whom may have been directly affected throughout Dames’ tenure, with an impossible and unfair burden. It’s hard to know what the response will be, and in truth a lot of what’s going on in the club and the league overall is much larger than the games that will be played. However, games can give players an outlet. We saw last year’s Spirit team galvanize to go on a tear throughout the playoffs and lift the trophy. However, that came at a cost, the least of which was winning only two games the following season.

For San Diego, a win would continue to plow new territory for what an expansion team can accomplish. For Chicago, we can only hope that the players are heard, protected and somehow able to perform to whatever standard they feel capable of at this moment.


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